Oral Interpreting: There’s more than one way to see what’s said

Last year, at the SayWhatClub Convention, held in Madison, Wisconsin, those of us who signed up for the Wisconsin State Capitol Tour had the pleasure of experiencing an oral interpreter, also known as an oral transliterator. As a lipreader (speech reader), I was thrilled to see firsthand how effective it was.

Oral interpreting isn’t as common as Sign Language Interpreting, but it is a recognized sub-specialty of interpreting. An oral interpreter silently mouths speech for the non-signing deaf consumer.  They use facial expressions and gestures to enhance understanding for those who read lips. Of the 360 million people in the world with debilitating hearing loss, only 70 million use sign language as their first language.  Many others know and use sign language, but not fluently.  The majority  of people with hearing loss find other ways to communicate. Oral interpreting addresses the needs of non-signers, as does captioning and CART (Real-Time Captioning).

Back to my experience in Madison…

The group touring the Wisconsin State Capitol met in the rotunda after a short walk from our hotel. There, we met our tour guide and the oral interpreter.  It was funny, usually I’m the one deaf person in a crowd vying for the best place at the front to lipread the tour guide.  But when the entire group has hearing loss, you realize every other person has the same goal.  Funny.

The oral interpreter mouthed what the tour guide said, while  pointing toward the subject the tour guide talked about.  She also used her hands to make other motions and signs.   Her facial expressions, added meaning and clarification.

Below is a video I took of our oral interpreter during the Capitol Tour.  When people with hearing loss know the subject, we’re more likely to understand.  I’ve included a short premise to set the context:

The video begins with the mention of the 1904 Capitol fire and how the cold temperatures hampered the efforts of firefighters — once they reached Madison, they found the equipment had frozen and needed to be thawed. As a result, most of the building’s structure burned to the ground taking with it numerous records, books, and historical artifacts, including a mounted bald eagle, “Old Abe”, a civil war mascot for “Company C” of the 8th Wisconsin Regiment.

Also, I’ve added closed captions — I borrowed my daughter’s ears — to the video. But before you click that cc button, do try watching without the captions.  See how you do at lipreading the interpreter. NOTE: The tour guide’s speech (audio of the video) is what’s captioned. The oral interpreter’s words are not verbatim. An oral interpeter might substitute, or omit words or phrases that are difficult to speech read.  However, she maintains the integrity and intent of the speaker.

Whether you’re a lipreader, or not, it’s interesting to watch this video repeatedly.

First, after reading the premise above, watch without captions.  Pay attention only to the oral interpreter on the left.  Second, watch again, this time using the captions to help you lipread the tour guide.  Third, watch a second time, with captions.  With your attention on what the oral interpreter is mouthing, see if you can pick up on the differences between the two.

An example of how the oral interpreter changes things up to make them more readable on the lips:

Tour Guide: “…that isn’t the worst news… back up six months from the fire…”

Oral Interpreter: “But that is not the worst… six months before the fire…”

Notice how the oral interpreter did away with the contraction, “isn’t”.  One of the things I tell people when they speak to me is to please not use contractions. I need to hear each word. Also, the interpreter took the tour guide’s more confusing sentence structure and made it easier to understand by saying it in a different way.

These things, combined with the very logical motioning and signing, facial expression and body language, give the lipreader much more information to work with in figuring out what is said.

What a great experience it was to see what an oral interpreter has to offer. I hope all of you who might benefit from oral interpreting look into getting one in the future.  Just as with sign language and CART, oral transliteration is a reasonable accommodation. It is provided for through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Oral interpretation is appropriate for any situation where an interpreter is used.

Taking a tour with an oral interpreter meant every room we visited in the Wisconsin State Capitol was a “Hearing Room”.  I knew I could work in that picture of the “Hearing Room” if I tried.  :o)

Capitol Bldg Hearing Room

The “Hearing Room’, located in the north wing of the Wisconsin State Capitol.  The legislature uses it for public committee hearings.

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