UPATE: A reply to CISLI’s statement that came from Ross Browne in Facebook:
Hi. I read the article and it was never my intention the undermine. Accents are common place in comedy, from local to worldwide and are not racist unless the intent or joke itself is racist. I’ve been speaking to a lot of people over the past two days both deaf and interpreters who saw the funny side. By playing different characters my view is comedy should be inclusive and it is as long as the joke isn’t aimed at the people you are portraying. The target was Enda. I’d love to offer in any way to help highlight the struggles to get ISL mote recognised by the government and would gladly do anything I can to help.
CISLI’s response to Ross Browne:
Dear Ross. Many thanks for your willingness to engage with CISLI, interpreters and Deaf people as a result of the discussions over the last few days. It is encouraging to see your interest in the status of ISL and the difficulties Deaf people face as a result of its non-recognition. We are always here if you need to clarify anything on this front. It is especially welcome that you intend to have a professional interpreter at your next show – we are sure Deaf audience members will love it. We are happy to point the way to bodies like the Irish Deaf Society, who will be able to provide you with information and awareness about Deaf people and their culture. We do appreciate your response and thank you for your prompt and polite manner in talking to us.
It is with a mixture of disappointment, and faint amusement, that the Council of Irish Sign Language Interpreters (CISLI) greets the latest ‘fake interpreter’ episode – this time, comedian Ross Browne ‘interpreting’ for Enda Kenny at a conference in Cork, performing rude gestures in his direction.
It has been made clear that Ross Browne was not, of course, booked to interpret for this event, and did not purport to. CISLI understands the premise of using platforms such as these for purposes of social and political activism. However, it is disheartening to see this tactic used in such a way as to undermine professional sign language interpreters, Deaf people, and Irish Sign Language.
CISLI gets the joke, but this does not remove the offence felt by both professional interpreters and Deaf people. Regardless of the intention of the stunt, the message was delivered by poking fun at sign language. Presumably, in his comedy act, Ross Browne would not perform stereotypical accents of ethnic minorities. One wonders as to why the same form of ridicule is propagated against Deaf people – regardless of intent. ISL is a complex, rich, beautiful and historical language of the Deaf community in Ireland. It deserves better than the easy mockery of a viral prank. We hope the progress of the Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill 2016, currently before the Seanad, will not be affected by this comedic dig at the language of Deaf people.
The blatant impersonation of a working interpreter in this case also mocks the emerging profession of sign language interpreting, and possibly casts doubt on our status as professional, impartial language experts. It draws attention to the lack of regulation in our profession. Questions must be asked about the sheer length of time it took for organisers to notice a clearly unqualified person pretending to be an interpreter. This is compounded by the fact that, according to the Cork Deaf Club, a professional interpreter was actually requested for the event by Deaf people – and this request was not fulfilled. Yet this exclusion and marginalisation was not the news story that emerged from the event.
One positive note is that people are talking again about the importance of registration for interpreters, a subject dear to the hearts of ISL professionals. We look forward to the day when Irish Sign Language, along with the Deaf community who live and breathe life into it, and the professionals who provide access through it, are equally respected. We hope that in time, stunts like Browne’s will be considered beneath any performer.