In 2014, the world was shaken by the death of world leader, Nelson Mandela. The memorial in his honor was a homage to his great achievements and passions.
During the televised speeches, there was a designated sign language interpreter who was supposed to inform the audience of what was being said. The sign language interpreter, Thamsanqa Jantjie, proceeded to incorrectly use the signals associated with American and South African Sign Language. He goes on to completely make up gestures throughout leaders like Barack Obama, speeches. Many members of the deaf community were outraged by this interaction. The qualifications of the man were called into question. This event became a symbol for the lack of awareness and recognition for deaf communities. How could this happen at a memorial service for a world leader? It made people realize that changes had to be made to ensure the betterment and education of all people, specifically deaf.
The South African Government released a statement that says, “Government is looking into this matter but has not been able to conclude this inquiry due to the demanding schedule of organizing events related to the State Funeral,” the statement read. The government will report publicly on any information it may establish but wishes to assure South Africans that we are clear in defending the rights and dignity of people with disabilities.” Other governments tried to address the issue as simply an internal conflict for South Africa to deal with.
The bigger question is how did this happen? An international incident like such should suggest change needs to be made.
Popular late night show host, Jimmy Kimmel, decided to have a real sign language interpreter tries to translate what was being presented by Jantjie. The following video is provided below.
Kimmel’s skit was directed and filmed from a comedic point; however, it still draws awareness to the issue at hand. Most people watching the Mandela memorial didn’t even realize something was wrong. Sign language, especially in America, isn’t integrated into many aspects of our lives.
It poses certain questions such as: why is sign language not a required language, why are there not available video screens projecting sign languages in most public areas, how does one initiate sign language education if it isn’t being used often enough, etc.
The lack of normalcy associated with deaf culture, specifically sign language, makes one focus on the societal norms that dictate it to be “not normal.”
One day, I hope to see a society that has integrated deaf culture and others alike so that it isn’t seen as just another variation of different.