Jan 24 2005

Signing at Council Meetings Aids Few

Published by at January 24, 2005 9:10 pm under Interpretation

Deal to keep service for deaf, but some see need for Spanish translation

They flash a silent language for hours, never knowing who’s benefiting, if anyone at all.

The remarkable skill of these sign language translators, who convert fiery Dallas City Council debates and governmentese with their bare hands, are often wasted; and with it, tens of thousands of tax dollars, too.

While rendering an exact figure is difficult, the law of averages suggests that only a handful of sign-language literate, hearing-impaired residents each year sit through sparsely attended City Council meetings.

The signers’ translations go no further than City Hall’s council chambers. Dallas Community Television broadcasts council meetings, but sign language translators are never shown, rendering the feed useless to deaf viewers.

Then last week, without debate, the council unanimously approved a three-year contract worth up to $125,000 to continue the in-meeting sign language translation.

Meanwhile, Dallas’ Spanish-speaking population, tens of thousands of residents strong, receives no council meeting translation services – nothing in person, nothing via television or radio broadcasts.

No plans are afoot to expand city translation services to Spanish, although the new sign language contract provides for televised coverage of the sign language translators, Acting City Manager Mary Suhm said. Dallas routinely translates city documents into Spanish, provides 311 services in Spanish and features a Spanish-language version of its Web site, Ms. Suhm added.

The Dallas Independent School District has for years provided Spanish translations of its board meetings and many neighborhood gatherings, district spokesman Donald Claxton said. An on-site translator talks to audience members through headphones, he said.

“There’s someone at every meeting using it,” Mr. Claxton said.

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