Fake interpreter humour: detraction or indicator?

[…] in a large hotel. A deaf woman asked directions to the toilets and the concierge looked at her, me and her hearing dog and made the inexplicable decision to lean down and explain the directions to the dog! — Interpreter Annie.

This is funny although the concierge’s behaviour was rooted in ableism. S/he gave the dog directions, not the person asking it but Annie was there to counter the ableism. The laugh is at the expense of the ableist concierge, arguably about his ‘smartness’ but in a that’s-what-ableism-can-do-to-your-brain way perhaps?

I’ve seen one amusing meme (below) among the memes and ‘jokes’ on faketerpreter at Madiba’s memorial, Thamsanqa Dyantyi, the rest is plain offensive (two-fold if anyone buys his schizophrenia claims) and the persistence of the media (French, British, US, SA’s Mail&Guardian – the only coverage I’m able to follow regularly) to stick to a one-sided perspective regarding schizophrenia, criminal history and potential security risk seems like a another bad ‘joke’.

Thamsanqa Dyantyi faketerpreting Barrack Obama’s speech at Madiba’s memorial, in this animated gif he then pulls a red balloon and makes a balloon dog.

Dyantyi’s signing struck me as odd but the scale of Madiba’s memorial (which I only saw briefly on BBC) was such that I didn’t think about it, but I stopped paying attention to something I’d be attentive to (without any understanding but with the interest pertaining to a language one plans to learn) – I have that privilege as a hearie who furthermore understands South African English accents. I don’t speak any sign language. Since I before could talk and until her death, I learned my late aunt’s sign language – she’d never met another deaf person, nor accessed media with sign language.

Dyantyi should’ve been interviewed in sign language, he should be. I don’t buy the schizophrenia story. Suppose the reason is economic and there’s still a fictitious hiring company involved, this was in complete and utter disrespect of deaf people, he would have at least recognised this if he really had learned SASL then he wouldn’t have signed gibberish. It’s also harmful to people with schizophrenia (one friendly schizophrenic I met worked at the Robben Island Museum, as in with tourists, famous or not). Imagine all politicians ‘taking care’ of corruption charges henceforth by feigning schizophrenia. His criminal history only indicates that he may be a skilled scammer and liar, I would bet with ties with the ANC.

Sindiso Sira Joya commented on the M&G facebook page: “Complained to ANC

The man also did sign interpretation at an event last year that was attended by President Jacob Zuma.

At that appearance, a deaf person in the audience videotaped the event and gave it to the [Deaf] federation, which analysed the video, prepared a report about it and a submitted a formal complaint to the ANC, Druchen said.

In their complaint, the federation suggested that the man should take the five years of training needed to become a qualified sign language interpreter in South Africa. But the ANC never responded, Druchen said.

Druchen said a fresh complaint will be filed to the ANC about the interpreter he called a “fake” with a demand for an urgent meeting.

The ANC professed no knowledge of the man.

“I don’t know this guy. He doesn’t work for the ANC. It was a government event. Ask them,” spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said.”

So there’d been at least one complaint. I’ve seen more than one post, perhaps of the same. This event is a year later and planning at ANC level has surely been going on since Madiba was in hospital this year. Anyway reporting and humour around this has been both an indicator of ableism and the apathy around it, and a detraction from speaking about deaf people and access.

An account of my experience of sign language ‘jokes’ with someone who claims to be on the other side of the political sphere: South African Vegan Society* director, also at the forefront of anarchism in SA, once randomly told me he’s fluent in ASL. As we were new friends, I asked why ASL not SASL, and so on. Anyway he stressed on the fact that he knew ASL (the friend party to our conversation knew him and nodded), even made some signs. Following that, while helping them organise an intersectional conference, I asked who we can ask or hire as SASL interpreter (ASL ‘speaker’ was taking financial decisions, they also had friends coming from another city, might they know a terp?). I was then told that the claim of his knowledge of ASL had been a joke – right, then surely he knew SASL? He didn’t know any sign language! He was amused, also at me not getting the ‘joke’. How could it have been a joke?!! It was offensive, and I started thinking of excuses I could make to a deaf friend who was planning to take a bus from another city to the conference, to not reveal their insensitivity.

What sort of privileged existences do people have to think anything is permitted when it comes to disabled people (people disabled by them and their precious privileged world)?! The ableism did not stop there, I wasn’t aware I was being the gimp (and the brown representing black and all colours) token so I was trying to not limit myself to assigned tasks but to ensure I think of maximum possible access. The venue was next to a beachfront parking lot, the event on a Saturday the whole day, so it was important to demarcate disabled parking spots somehow as it would also be used as busy beach parking. All my suggestions regarding access were dismissed without consideration, I was kicked off the organising team in the week before the event (many may have seen the edit on one event page) with access thrown out the window, and with clear threats in writing so I would remember not to mention anything publicly. This had been voluntary work but aside from that, what did it cost me, reputation-wise? I lost friends and an acquaintance who took part in the conference. Why? I’m yet to find out, nearly 2 years later and perhaps there’s more to come. What did it cost our disabled community? Lack of inclusivity that day (videos of the talks were not made public to my knowledge) and at least this: a related event, the 2012 Capetown anarchist book-fair reeked of ableism, while claiming to seek to create discussion of ableism!

The CT Anarchist book-fair was in a suburb with a privileged and student population, where parking is scarce, far from the largest anarchist collective locally, in Khayelitsha township. There were talks scheduled all day as well as documentaries, in English and there were no details whatsoever about access or subtitles. The reply to my inquiry from a novice organiser, an ex-classmate, gave no information either. Only that she didn’t think of many things and had even forgotten to buy the toilet paper for the event ’til the last minute. I’m sure they wouldn’t have been short of arsewipes – I don’t see the link so perhaps that’s what they expected me to say or think? Didn’t they think of anything when they decided to publish the event? Were they only interested in flaunting the term ‘ableism’ or perhaps talking the talk in the eyes of an unsuspecting international audience? I doubt they had an SASL interpreter and basic access, but they organised a nude march. How innovative (sarcasm). As a multiply disabled person, I couldn’t go so I can only speculate based on their advertisements and my experience. I don’t know if there were disabled people in attendance.

In the case of public and free music events by Soundz of the South that I have been to in Khayelitsha, where numbers far exceeded the conference attendance, and perhaps exceeded that of the preceeding anarchist book-fair – there were enough print-outs distributed so we could share a sheet and read lyrics to some songs. That in spite of limited means. In contrast, the conference had projector facilities but did not ask their speakers, not even directors or previous directors to provide text on screen for the talks.

I see oppressive humour as a sheer lack of humour, compensated by oppression or discrimination. Many have been trained to respond with laughing, I believe, and not only in SA. Not only the incident is embarrassing (what is embarrassing is taking deaf viewers for granted right?) but so is the detraction.

* I’ll take this opportunity to tell all who’ve seen me holding SAVS’s GAIA market stall in the past, some of whom had never received SAVS products promised with an arguably high membership fee: I trusted them because of one director who seemed to be doing a good job, and she was the driving force seemingly. They were friends of friends (not only of our allies the animals), endorsed by the Vegan Society and in the SA vegan scene, no one had said anything except that working relationships with the director I refer to in this post (‘leader’ henceforth for sake of abbreviation), don’t last. I was scammed myself after spending time, unemployed savings and spoons helping them in Capetown. I was convinced to pay a year’s membership but not getting any of that money back after the 1st month, after the leader ostracised me, blocked me from the facebook page for no reason and made threats urging me not to say anything. I was also repeatedly told by a friend that they’re broke then a year ago, that they were disbanding or handing it over. I’m used to seeing organisations that were donation-based and did lots, like BWCSA… not that I agree with all their views but bottomline: they do shit, help animals, motivate people.

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