All official governmental as well as presidential announcements are interpreted in Lithuanian Sign Language. Generally, this situation has brought many changes that will be improving the accessibility for the deaf. The government is extremely responsive and supports all the requests from the Lithuanian Association of the Deaf, which remains very active, collaborates with the government and together finds the best possible solution. The sign language interpreter is standing next to the presenter, which is something that hasn't happened before.
Even the President of Lithuanian does not start presenting, until the sign language interpreter arrives. The Lithuanian Association of the Deaf is in good contact with the people from the President’s Office, who expressed their interest in hiring a sign language interpreter as a permanent staff in the team.
When the safety requirements were heightened the interpreters began to wear medical masks.The Lithuanian Association of the Deaf requested for transparent masks instead and the next day it was arranged. The Lithuanian Association of the Deaf is extremely content regarding this amount of collaboration.
The Lithuanian Association of the Deaf also managed to ensure that remote sign language interpreting services are available 24/7 via Skype during the quarantine period. This means that now, deaf people can call via the general number for Coronavirus 1808 and ask for help at any time.
Moreover, in Lithuania, mobile checkpoints for testing were established. However, they were inaccessible for the deaf because they did not allow getting out of the car. Therefore right now, this was updated and it was decided to install tablets to all cars which are mobile testing points, which will connect with sign language interpreters via Skype and communicate with deaf people through the car window so that the deaf can do everything as directed.
Lithuanian Association of the Deaf is actively cooperating and collaborating with Lithuanian Association of Sign Language Interpreters and Lithuanian Center for Sign Language Interpreting. They are very grateful for their contribution, because it wouldn’t have been possible to achieve all of this alone.
Sign language interpreters beside the president – Lithuania shows an example to the world
Since the 9th of March all TV press conferences related to official fight with COVID-19 pandemic are being interpreted to sign language. Kęstutis Vaišnora, the president of Lithuania‘s Deaf Union (LKD) is glad that the highest institutions reacted very fast to the request of LKD to ensure deaf community the accesibility of very important information in their mother language.
„Lithuanian deaf community are equal citizens of Lithuanian Republic. At this stressful time many chalenges that occur to the deaf community, are being solved in coopeation with Presidency, Government, Ministry of Social Security and Labor, Ministry of Health (SAM), Ministry of Disability, Lithuanian Sign Language Interpreting Center (LGKVC) and Lithuanian Association of Sign Language Interpreters (LASLI), - says president of LKD. – We applied for customization of mobile testing stations, now those stations have to equipped with Tablet PCs in order medical workers could remotely reach sign language interpreters when it‘s necessary.
K. Vaišnora also adds that the national TV also took into the account a request of LKD – at the time of quarantine, there is a TV show called “Interesting lessons” broadcasted and interpreted into sign language, as deaf children also have the same right to receive information as the rest of Lithuanian students.
Deaf people thank sign language interpreters the same as we thank to medical workers.
Director of LGKVC Ramunė Leonavičienė says that together with K. Vaišnora they‘ve been thinking about interpreting of the official events before the virus. Although, until the pandemic, it was not allowed to infringe the rules of ceremonies, for example, the interpreter could not stand beside the President in the Presidency premises. But COVID-19 broke all these rules now: „It‘s all simple – in order the interpreting could be shown immediately, the best way is for an interpreter to stand beside the speaker“. Director of LGKVC says that the reaction of deaf community was very positive: At first people could not believe that this is not one-time service. When they saw that all the press conferences are being interpreted into sign language, interpreters have received a lot of gratitude – deaf people thank them the same as we thank to medical workers for what they do.“ R. Leonavičienė reminds us that this year, on the 16th of February, thanks to LKD request, the sign language interpreter was standing next to the President for the first time in history at the flag hoisting ceremony. „It was like a small rehearsal before the pandemic. The President showed an example, and later the rest of the institutions took it – it was like a snowball effect, - says director of LGKVC. – I believe that this practice will also be continued when quarantine is over – it does not cost additional money, and such a filming is much better and cheaper.“
Head of LGKVC Vilnius territorial division Danguolė Dragūnienė, who coordinates work of sign language interpreters in Vilnius district says, that interpreters go to press conferences every day, and even few times per day. „At first we were invited by SAM, then – by Government and Presidency, and this week we began cooperating with Parliament. We made a team of 10 interpreters who can provide such type of interpreting services. We make our schedules in advance, but we often change them. Sometimes I get text messages at night time with requests. We‘re ready for everything, we are on duty the whole time“, - tells us D. Dragūnienė.
Sign language interpreter Artūras Kartanovič says that usually interpreters get information about future conferences 1-2 days in advance. „But we also get sudden cases, where we are informed only like 1 or 2 hours before the start of the conference. We also work on weekends. Today I am on call according to the schedule, so I am up from the very early morning and if there is a necessity, I will travel to the specified location.“. Artūras had to work on 9th of March, on the very first press conference at SAM, which was interpreted live to sign language. „I felt casual, did not feel significant considering whose speech I was interpreting and what surrounded me, - says Artūras. – Sign language interpreters do their job everywhere, where it is possible, and this case was exceptional only because I was more publicly noticable and discussed“.
Interpreter Diana Girnytė confirms that she feels more stress now than usual. And it’s not only because she has to interpret speeches of the most important people in the country: “Situation in Lithuania and in the rest of the world is uncommon. Themes of the speakers are specific, complex, unusual terms are being used and it all requires a lot of competence. Sometimes we make mistakes, but all interpreters do their best so that deaf people would understand what the situation is right now and in the whole information flow would feel equal to hearing people”.
Interpreter Arūnas Šaukeckas also admits that it is difficult to avoid emotion: “There is some shudder at heart, as it is brand new thing, you think not only about the interpreting, but about the visual view and how will you be accepted by others. You work not by yourself, you’re part of a team. Of course, it helps that everyone around is very helpful and thoughtful”. Organization of press conferences change a lot, the interpreter has to adapt to all the circumstances. At first they worked one by one, but when they saw that conferences last longer than it’s planned, they began working in couples, changing each other every 15-20 minutes. “It is extremely hard to interpret at the press conference which lasts for more than one hour, - says Arūnas. – More than that, at first there were loads of people in those conferences, journalists would ask many questions and it was difficult to understand which question has to be interpreted first, through all the fuss. Now, when press conferences are going on remotely, it is easier for us”.
The most important task is interpreters’ safety
It is very important to protect interpreters from coronavirus, admits D. Dragūnienė: “Imagine what would happen if at least one interpreter would get infected with the virus – the whole team would have to face self-isolation. So we try to provide them with the main protection equipment – disinfectants, gloves, masks. We buy masks every year as they’re also necessary for the flu epidemic. Last year I bought much more masks than usual, so this year they’re very useful to us. In common situation, interpreters work in a higher-risk environment anyway, sometimes they contact with clients that are ill”.
“Our profession is specific in that way, that we need to go wherever we are needed. I try not to think of a possibility to get infected, I try to stay positive”, says Arūnas. “Of course, there is a risk, so we have to take all the precautions in order to protect ourselves and others. We use different equipment, frequently wash our hands, disinfect the surfaces and keep the recommended distance” – claims Diana. Artūras agrees. He says that recently interpreters received transparent face shields, despite all the other security equipment. D. Dragūnienė told us that those transparent face shields were supplied after on press conference at the Presidency where interpreters worked wearing respirators. “Sign language’s grammar has to be reflected not only by hands, but also by face expressions, as well as lips movements and emotions are very important, and if interpreter’s face is half covered, the interpreting cannot introduce full information, - assures D. Dragūnienė. After that even in the Presidency, we started looking for transparent face shields. I applied to President’s advisor Antanas Bubnelis with whom we have a great cooperation and with his help we received those shields in one and a half day”. Although, says our interlocutor, those security measures are not very ideal – face shields are not very comfortable, unsteady, they crack, so at the moment we’re looking for ones of a better quality. A. Šaukeckas notices that transparent face shields are not very suitable because they shine on TV and dew and the audience cannot see all the face expressions and emotions. If the quarantine lasts for another while, maybe another measures will be found.
An example to other countries
R. Leonavičienė is happy that other LGKVC territorial divisions also show initiative – they interpret different reports that are important to all the citizens of our country. Video records, as well as links to press conferences are accessible at LGKVC website, facebook profile and its links are being shared by LKD – in order to ensure that the important information would reach as much deaf audience as possible. Also, all country‘s sign language interpreters, except for Vilnius, are available 24/7.
„At present Lithuania is showing an example not only for its Baltic „sisters“, but also to many European countries, - director of LGKVC is gladly stating. – Even our colleagues in Canada are happy about our achievements and say that they can take an example from us – that is how fast we move forward with our services.“ K. Vaišnora says that during quarantine deaf people not only receive the interpreting, but also all the other necessary services: „Deaf rehabilitation centers and our associated members provide help for people who do not have possibilities to use technologies, help with occured problems or buy food and medicine for elderly people“. President of LKD is very happy that positive changes were noticed by European Union of the Deaf (EUD): Executive director of EUD and its members praised Lithuania that we are able to react immediately at this complicated times and change the situation. It appears that when you really want something and you put efforts to it, together with team work, everything is possible! We really hope that presents means of work will stay and will be used after the quarantine is over“.
Author of the article: Sigita Inčiūrienė