MFD: Massive shortage of sign language interpreters

PETALING JAYA: The hearing-impaired community is desperately in need of sign language interpreters, says the Malaysian Federation of the Deaf (MFD).

Currently are 30 Sign Language Interpreters (SLI) who work with the MFD to help the 55,000-strong deaf community in Malaysia communicate with the public. 

An additional 20-30 freelance interpreters are based across Malaysia. Of the number, only two are fluent in bilingual interpretation. 

“We don’t have enough SLIs. As we are an NGO, many interpreters are underpaid. What must be understood is that being an SLI is a full-time job,” said Adrienne Goh, one of MFD’s two bilingual interpreters.

“The Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development allocates RM900 a month per interpreter but that is not enough for someone to sustain a living. The MFD struggles to find money to pay all of them propely,” added MFD President Mohamad Sazali Shaari, 

Apart from the government grant, the MFD gets funding through fundraisers and public donations.

While free interpreting services are provided by the MFD from 9am to 6pm every weekday, the deaf still have to pay for an interpreter’s travel to and from venues.

In the case of deaf students, many are not able to afford the additional cost.

“This will amount to a lot over the years,” explained Sazali. “Many students choose to be independent and go without.”

The deaf also face difficulty going about official business such as getting their ICs and passports without interpreters.

“SLIs should be installed in all major government bodies. If the government is willing to employ SLIs and provide salaries, the MFD will be more than happy to give the necessary training,” said Sazali. 

While there is need of interpreters, those who are interested must have the right qualifications before they become SLIs.

Sazali explained the importance of having professional and accredited interpreters, as it is a complex area of work. Although many Malaysian SLIs interpret across the board, there are also specialists in
the interpretation of education, business, religious and medical issues.

“We interpret for cases in the civil, syariah and even criminal courts. Occasionally, the courts may question the ability and qualification of the interpreter. For instances such as these, official accreditation is needed,” said Sazali 

The MFD provides a diploma course in collaboration with a local university that outlines a syllabus for those who wish to be professional interpreters. The curriculum includes sign language studies, interpretation and the study of Deaf culture and community. 

Members of the public who are interested to learn sign language can attend weekend classes at a fee of RM150 for a basic-level package of 8 lessons.

“In the USA, sign language is an elective subject in universities. We hope to promote sign language in such a way and are working with public and private bodies to do this,” said Sazali.

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