AIIC at EFSLI 2017

AIIC works to strengthen cooperation between spoken and sign language interpreters at major European forum.

From left: Maya de Wit, Dounya François & Oliver Pouliot

The annual conference of the European Forum of Sign Language Interpreters (EFSLI) convened on 9 September 2017 in the French city of Toulouse. Participants gathered to discuss interpreting in healthcare settings with the purpose of analyzing all related aspects posing a challenge to sign language interpreters.

AIIC is determined to strengthen cooperation between spoken and sign language interpreters, and was well represented. Present were Sign Language Network coordinator Maya de Wit, members Oliver Pouliot and Dounya François, and Adrienne Clark-Ott and Nina Okague of AIIC’s Committee on Admissions and Language Classification.

The event was kicked off by Donald Tait, Head of the Unit for Programming of Interpretation at the European Commission, who noted how interesting this particular interpretation setting was and who underlined the growing importance of sign languages in his unit, and Sanja Tarczay, President of European Deafblind Union (EDbU), who, speaking over a video link, stressed that deaf-blind interpreters must be included as vital participants in ongoing discussions.

Colin Allen, the President of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), opened and closed the conference. He pointed out that greater attention has been given to interpreting in the legal sector compared to medical settings, and that the topic of the current conference would heighten attention to the latter. He underlined the importance of cooperation between SL interpreters and consumers, which consists of making sure that the right interpreter is contracted and ensuring that the interpreter understands the wishes of the client. The use of an intermediary is common in France but less prevalent in other parts of Europe. In France an intermediary takes on responsibilities not considered the responsibility of the interpreter, e.g. empowering deaf patients through education and explaining information to ensure that the source message is passed on.

The topic of healthcare interpreting also brought out additional barriers. For example, Belmonte & Dickson found that the majority of deaf people have poor access to health care: 70% missed a doctor’s appointment due to the unavailability of an interpreter. Meinicke & Bruck mention the attitude of medical professionals and staff, which appears to be more important than their familiarity with the interpreting process. Their conclusions lead them to  emphasize that training medical staff to work with interpreters and deaf patients is essential.

At the end of the conference Colin Allen explained the importance of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and it’s integral connection with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Both are important tools to ensure accessibility and the rights of sign language users in society.

This two-day event was an opportunity for AIIC sign language members to meet with representatives of various European national associations of sign language interpreters, and to make an initial assessment of the practices of SL interpreters working in community settings and ask them if they wish to interact more with spoken language interpreters.

Sandra Faure and Rachel Frery, who head AFILS (France), explained that they often work as conference interpreters but rarely get to meet their spoken language counterparts, although they did establish contacts with AIIC to discuss a code of ethics when AFILS (France) was created.

Sylvia Leclerc, head of ABILS (Belgium), stated that sign language interpreters are usually very familiar with conference interpretation in spoken languages, as interpretation theory and literature comes predominately from this field. Conversely, she insisted that spoken language interpreters should become more acquainted with sign language interpretation to better understand this very similar yet aesthetically different vocation.

Lorette Gervaix, head of the French-speaking Swiss Association of Sign Language Interpreters, told us that spoken  and sign language interpreters often interact in Switzerland given the many trilingual institutions there. She added, however, that it would be beneficial to strengthen relations and improve recognition of sign language interpreters.

Nives Gotovac and Dorijana Kavcic, both members of the Association of the Deaf and Hard of Rearing of Zagreb, expressed their interest in working more closely with spoken language interpreters, especially to exchange expertise on how to prepare for a conference.

To conclude, rainy weather didn’t dampen enthusiasm and all enjoyed the beauty of the "Ville Rose" while renewing professional contacts essential to an exchange of best practices. The two-day conference was marked by fruitful discussions and ended on an uplifting note with powerful messages from Colin Allen and high-profile representatives from the audience. EFSLI regulars and newcomers alike said farewell already looking forward to meeting again in Dubrovnik (Croatia) from the 14th to 16th September 2018.

Recommended citation format:
Maya DE WIT,Dounya FRANCOIS,Oliver POULIOT. "AIIC at EFSLI 2017". January 11, 2018. Accessed May 29, 2020. <>.