Monday, September 01, 2008

AIDS 2008, Opening Ceremony, Sunday August 3

Between August 3 and August 10, I was in beautiful Mexico City with 25,000 other people for the AIDS 2008 conference. In the next couple of days I will be posting on the events of the week, from the colorful dancers of the opening ceremonies on Sunday to the great outreach program led by Donald Pilling of CSSQ on Thursday evening.

The opening ceremony was held at a large hall away from the main building. I had met up with Donald Pilling, a Deaf activist from from Montreal at the Global Village and we then met up with Washington Opiyo, the Deaf coordinator of the Liverpool Deaf VCT services in Kenya and his interpreter, Peninah Vulimu.

The four of us then tried to get down to the front of the auditorium to meet the official sign language interpreters of the event. The security people had no idea what we were talking about, we had to get the coordinator of all interpreters to talk to us and he finally introduced us to Daniel Maya, who does Mexican Sign Language (LSM) and Alexis Martinez, who does both LSM and American Sign Language.

After some discussion we were given good seats at the front and side of the auditorium. There were no LSM users in the audience (people in the Deaf community were very interested in the conference but couldn’t afford the high fee for participation in the main events) but Daniel stood on the left side of the auditorium and signed in LSM for the general public. I hope he was filmed so others can see him at some point. We were on the right side of the auditorium with Alexis doing ASL and Peninah doing Kenyan Sign Language (KSL) in front of us. All three of the interpreters did a magnificent job under incredibly difficult circumstances. Each signed the entire three hour opening ceremony without a break, conveying the words of UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot, President of Mexico, Felipe Calderón, and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with verve and clarity.

These working conditions were equivalent to interpreter torture. Normal protocol would have had interpreters changing out every twenty minutes particularly when interpreting for such important speakers as Piot, Calderón, and Ki-Moon. While it was wonderful to see three languages signed so beautifully for all to see, the lack of replacements for interpreters was typical of the lack of planning by AIDS 2008 on Deaf issues. The names of the interpreters were not even revealed until two weeks before the start of the convention. Usually interpreters are chosen well ahead of time and have preview copies of speeches and presentations to work with a month to six weeks ahead of a conference. We hope to work with AIDS 2010 to make sure that interpreter issues are dealt with long ahead of time.

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