During the two years that Malaysia was under intermittent lockdown under the COVID-19 pandemic, the public paid close attention to the daily media briefings from the Ministry of Health and Home Affairs Ministry. While the public waited eagerly for the press conferences, a small corner of the television screen with a gesturing individual caught their imagination, and there were many viral memes and discussions in the social media. This study examines these public perceptions through the lens of personal accounts and retrospective interviews with each of the sign language interpreters to examine the challenges and demands they encountered when working in the context of a civil and health emergency. The impact, control measures, and general wellbeing of these sign language interpreters pre-, during, and post-coverage are analyzed to provide comprehensive insight into their experiences of the Catch-22 situations where they found it difficult to break away. These personal accounts are contrasted with the perceptions of the Malaysian Deaf Community, who were highly critical of the interpreters’ skills regarding their understanding of the degree of accessibility and the quality of their interpretation of technical and critical information under circumstances when the interpreters themselves and the audience were under tremendous stress from the bombardment of dire news, global uncertainties, and unrelieved economic pressures. This study debunks many of the myths and misconceptions of the public on the Deaf Community and sign language interpreters, such as the use of a standardized or universal sign language, the environmental demands of interpreting during a crisis, the conflicting interpersonal and intrapersonal moments experienced by the interpreters, and the linguistic and paralinguistic demands encountered during the press conferences. Even interpreters with many decades of interpreting on television and in the community found their personal worldviews as well as their understanding of their role and their profession dramatically altered and reassessed because of interpreting during these two unprecedented years.
Malaysian Sign Language, remote simultaneous interpretation, crisis interpreting, emergency broadcast, accessibility