by Alsy Acevedo
Originally published in Spanish by El Sentinel on June 11, 2010
Teresita Fonseca lives in silence. She cannot hear or talk because she was born deaf.
But her silence is not synonymous with the lack of communication. Like many other mothers, she is the one that attends PTA meetings and takes the kids to their medical appointments.
When she has something to say, the voice others hear is that of an interpreter.
“I come from another country. We don’t have interpreters; I depended on my family,” said Fonseca, who was born and raised in Colombia.
In Central Florida, where she moved to eight years ago, she discovered interpreting services.
“Here, I am me. There [in Colombia], people answered for me. I like the independence I have here much better,” Fonseca declared.
That independence is due to the stipulations in the American with Disabilities Act that came into effect in 1992 to guarantee that a person with any physical limitation have access to establishments of public service. Previous to the ADA only entities that received federal funds had the responsibility to guarantee access to everybody. Now, private businesses are also required to have their services accessible to everyone.
According to the law, for people with hearing disabilities, qualified interpreters, hearing assistance equipment, note takers or written material must be provided.
But many companies and individuals are unaware of the responsibilities and rights this law entitles.
Fonseca did not know about the law until she registered her son in school. “When I signed my son up for school, they brought an interpreter,” recalled 49 year old Fonseca.
But, it did not help much. The interpreter used American Sign Language and she was using a Spanish version.
A Diverse Language
“The variety of the Deaf community is the same as the hearing one,” said Ángela Valcárcel-Roth, president of American Sign Language Services, an interpreting agency with headquarters in Kissimmee.
The company was founded in 1992 and specializes in multilingual interpretation. It means that their interpreters master English and Spanish as well as sign languages in those two languages, with its variants.
For example, at a doctor’s appointment the doctor might be speaking English but the interpretation in sign language is to the Spanish used in Mexico. It is just as the spoken language, signs have different languages, which also have regionalisms.
“You can hear the different accents when people talk; it is the same thing with signs, we have different expressions depending on the country,” said Fonseca, who learned Colombian sign language in her home country. She learned American Sign Language when she moved to the United States. With her husband, who is also Colombian and Deaf, she speaks both. “We speak a mix, like Spanglish in sign language,” Fonseca joked with a smile.
Valcárcel-Roth decided to start a company that provides services in Spanish after noticing the isolation of the Hispanic Deaf and hard of hearing community in the United States.
“Many times they are ashamed that they can’t hear. This is more common within the Hispanic community because they don’t know their options to access,” Valcárcel-Roth said.
Interpreters are not only for doctors or court appointments; theme parks, cruises, and even theaters can provide interpreters. “We interpreted a performance of the musical In the Heights when they came to Orlando” said Valcárcel-Roth as an example. Besides having an interpreter physically onsite at the place where interpreting is needed, there is also the option of video remote or video relay interpreting.
In the first option, both persons that need to communicate are together and use an interpreter through the computer, or similar equipment.
In the second option, the Deaf or hard of hearing person calls the interpreter using a video phone and places a call to any phone number. Then the interpreter uses his or her voice to relay what the Deaf person is saying in sign language.
“Those calls are paid for by the FCC so that any deaf person can have access,” Valcárcel-Roth stated.
Not all service providers are familiarized with the ADA or with the different kind of services available. “I had a doctor for 4 years that refused to provide me with an interpreter”, recalled Fonseca. “I had to make a complaint and he kicked me out as a patient”. Now she has a doctor that she describes as fabulous, that provides interpreter. Fonseca, who has used both Hispanic and Anglo interpreters, says she feels better with the former because they understand her culture.
The job of the interpreters is to be the voice of those who have none. That is why they have to distance themselves from what they are saying.
For 13 years, Annette Rodríguez has been doing simultaneous translations for medical appointments, legal procedures, and community events. She has been the voice of couples that promise eternal love at the altar, of people saying farewell to a loved one in the cemetery and to mothers in the delivery room. None of that intimidates her.
“The hardest part of my job is not to interfere when I see the lack of education of people saying they don’t have to provide interpreters when the law requires so,” Rodríguez said.
You can contact Alsy Acevedo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-540-4004.
To learn more about interpreting services for the Hispanic community in Central Florida visit www.aslservices.com or 1-888-744-6275.
For subtitles / caption services visit www.dicapta.com or 407-389-0712
Get general information at www.nchdhh.org.