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Faculty from Gallaudet University’s renowned Department of Interpretation recently participated in several high-profile media stories regarding the suspected credentials of a sign language interpreter at the memorial services for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Chartered in 1864, Gallaudet University is the world’s only liberal arts university for deaf and hard of hearing students. It is a bilingual, diverse, multicultural institution of higher education that ensures the intellectual and professional advancement of deaf and hard of hearing individuals through American Sign Language and English.

Controversy erupted following the memorial services for Nelson Mandela over the memorial’s official sign language interpreter who was criticized by deaf South Africans as not interpreting speakers’ comments into any discernable language.

Gallaudet alumnae Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen, a deaf member of the South African Parliament and vice president of the World Federation of the Deaf, tweeted her displeasure for the interpreter’s apparent lack of skill and demanded “Please get him off” [the stage]. This was followed by statements from deaf advocacy groups around the world calling attention to the lack of skilled interpreters for the deaf and hard of hearing community.

“By occupying the interpreter role without appearing to have the knowledge or skill to do so, he displaced a qualified and skilled interpreter and, by so doing, took away the international deaf audience’s opportunity to access and participate fully in an historic event as it was unfolding,” said Melanie Metzger, Ph.D., chair of the Gallaudet University Department of Interpretation.

Metzger and Dr. Keith Cagle, associate professor in the Department of Interpretation, conducted media interviews with The Washington Post, CNN’s “The Situation Room,” WUSA Channel 9, WJLA Channel 7, PBSNewshour, USA TODAY, AND WAMU’s “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” in regard to South African interpreter story. The CNN story was rebroadcast in local television markets throughout the country. See below for links to the stories.

The university’s Department of Interpretation is the only program in the world that offers bachelors, masters and doctoral degree programs in sign language interpreting. Interpretation program students live, study, and interact with deaf and hard of hearing people from the United States and abroad. Its award-winning interactive interpretation laboratories prepare students for a high-demand career through hands-on training in a variety of medical, business, education, and government settings.

“The field of interpretation as a whole has been moving toward a best practices model to meet the communication and language access needs of the deaf and hard of hearing community,” continued Metzger. “It is our hope that as this program grows we are able to cultivate and prepare an increasing number of qualified interpreters to serve the deaf and hard of hearing community worldwide.”

Department of Interpretation graduates work in a variety of full- and part-time settings for organizations, individuals, and government agencies. Gallaudet University’s interpretation alumni have also gone on to start their own businesses, work in a wide-range of settings including business, education, government, theatre, medicine, law, health care, and video relay.

CNN: (video only) (transcript)

Washington Post:

WJLA:–97960.html (video with written version underneath)

WUSA:–Mandela-service-interpreter (closed captioning button is on the right side of the video player control)

PBS Newshour:


The Kojo Nnamdi Show: (video with ASL interpretation and spoken English; audio only and transcript options are above the title)

Gallaudet University, federally chartered in 1864, is a bilingual, diverse, multicultural institution of higher education that ensures the intellectual and professional advancement of deaf and hard of hearing individuals through American Sign Language and English. Gallaudet maintains a proud tradition of research and scholarly activity and prepares its graduates for career opportunities in a highly competitive, technological, and rapidly changing world.

Kaitlin Luna, Coordinator of Media and Public Relations
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(202) 250-2973 videophone
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