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Understanding the Challenges Sign Language Interpreters face in Ghana:

Action Pending


Interpreting is one of the major components of language services a group of people can benefit from. The provision of sign language interpreting services between the D/deaf and hearing communities has many benefits to the two societies. In Ghana, the few sign language interpreters who have taken up the interpreting profession have over the years helped to promote an inclusive society between D/deaf and hearing communities. These interpreters have also helped to increase socio-economic opportunities for the D/deaf community in Ghana. Because of the dedicated and committed work of these interpreters, many in the D/deaf community in Ghana have become more socially aware and have moved on to become self-reliant with their profession as teachers, lecturers, D/deaf interpreters, legal representatives, technical experts etc. There are however many challenges these Ghanaian interpreters face in trying to promote understanding and facilitate communication between these two language communities. Most of these challenges do not only affect new interpreters but even the highly seasoned interpreters who have done the work over a long time. The purpose of this paper is to educate and inform the Ghanaian public including key stakeholders such as authorities in policy-making positions, sign language consumers, interpreters, interpreter trainers, service providers and all who may be involved with sign language interpreters in one way or the other about the key issues and challenges that affect sign language interpreters and their work, and to provide recommendations to address these challenges. It is the hope of the researcher, NASLIG and GNAD that this research paper will enhance knowledge and practice within the interpreting community in Ghana and beyond. To achieve the goals of this study, the researcher used survey monkey- a data collecting online application tool to design related questionnaire. After an official approval was given by the executive board of the National Association of Sign Language Interpreters Ghana- NASLIG to proceed with data collection, the questionnaire was sent primarily to the members of the interpreting association through social media and consequently to other known interpreters in Ghana who were not yet members of the association. A period of six weeks was used to gather the data. In all, 30 sign language interpreters including 2 Certified Deaf Interpreters- CDIs completed the questionnaire. Two close-ended and eight open ended questions were used to collect the data needed. The results were collected, analyzed, presented and discussed. The main results of the study revealed that interpreters identified the lack of national/legal recognition of both sign language as a language and interpreting as a profession, lack of a standardized commensurate remuneration for their services, linguistic inadequacies, a very low interpreter education and training regime for interpreters and the inability of service providers/users to provide preparatory materials to interpreters before they go into the job as the major challenges they face during their work. It is desired that the interventions as prescribed by respondents and as contained in this paper will be of immense benefit to sign language interpreters and all other related stakeholders in Ghana.

1.1 Introduction

Sign language interpreting as a profession is gaining grounds with relative speed around the world. Considering the rate of movement of people due to economic demands, educational goals and other social dynamics, people are increasingly crossing over into cultural zones other than theirs. In Ghana, sign language interpreters are on the demand partly due to physical and ideological shifts. The two communities- the deaf and the hearing/non-deaf in the quest to integrate each other, or should I say the hearing in their quest to integrate the deaf community for whatever their reason thus will need the services of the interpreters to achieve this. Many however do not regard sign language interpreting as a needed service. Some feel that the D/deaf community is not relevant to society and thus no effort should be made to spend resources on their behalf, hence no need for interpreting services. Others also argue that because they have never come across a deaf person, they do not even exist, and thus time should not be wasted in resourcing sign language interpreters or the field of sign language interpreting. It is even intriguing to hear people say that close continuous association with D/deaf persons and continuous use of sign language could eventually turn a person into D/deaf. That may possibly be the reason why many assume all sign language users including interpreters are deaf. On the contrary to the above views, the work of sign language interpreters is so critical that they have helped many deaf individuals to integrate smoothly into the hearing space and vice-versa.

Without the work of interpreters, the world possibly would not have seen the best of Ludwig Van Beethoven, Evelyn Glennie (one of the best Scottish percussionists), Curtis Pride, who became one of the top baseball coaches at the Gallaudet University, Majo Mathers- (the first deaf member of parliament in New Zealand). What of the Finnish rapper, Mark Vuoriheimo “Signmark” or Nellie Zabel Willhite the first Deaf American woman pilot… and the list go on. Due to the committed efforts of sign language interpreters, there are deaf persons rising through the ranks in Ghana. Some are training and working in the legal field, others are teaching in schools while still others are working in some of the higher educational institutions. Interestingly, a few have also been trained as certified deaf interpreters- CDIs. There are also countless deaf who are working with the highest sense of commitment within the Ghanaian industrial space.

The relevance of the sign language interpreter cannot be overemphasized in the legal field as well in Ghana. Within the judicial space, the deaf community interacts with various aspects of the justice system. Unbeknownst to many who assume that the court is the only setting where legal procedures take place, the interpreter works beyond the court by performing their work during attorney-client interactions, law enforcement investigations, depositions, witness interviews, real estate settlements, administrative and legislative hearings etc. The value of rendering professional interpreting services within this field is significant because of the major consequences that may arise and affect the people involved in the event of a failed communication with the justice delivery process. An accused may conclusively be charged and sentenced because probably, his/ her interpreter could not use the equivalence of a particular word/sentence appropriately to convey an equivalent meaning as in the case of using the word “murder” in place of “manslaughter” in a trial situation.

In the health delivery system, a team of professionals are usually called upon to ensure effective and proactive health delivery service. The interpreter is usually considered as a major part of such professional teams when a deaf person is involved somewhere in the equation.

The variety of settings where the service of an interpreter is needed in communities and in everyday interaction is key to the collective development of society.

  • Purpose of the study

The purpose of this study was to gather relevant information for sign language interpreting development in Ghana, to learn and inform the Ghanaian interpreting community that comprises sign language interpreters, deaf consumers, hearing consumers and employers of sign language interpreters about interpreter experiences in relation to the challenges they have faced and are still facing when performing interpreting services in Ghana. In addition, this project includes the collection and synthesis of suggestions by interpreting respondents to how some of these major challenges faced by interpreters could be resolved by individual interpreters and the interpreting umbrella –NASLIG so as to further improve the quality of interpreting service delivery in Ghana.

1.3 Methodology and Results

The target population considered for this study was sign language interpreters of Ghana. This target population comprised sign language interpreters who had been officially registered as members of the national association of interpreters known as the National Association of Sign Language Interpreters of Ghana- NASLIG and unregistered members. As at the time of the conduct of this study, there were 47 registered members of the national association (NASLIG, January 2021). The number of unregistered members was not known. For this study, data was collected from a total of 30 interpreters and used for analysis. 25 of the participants were registered members of the association while 5 were not. Questionnaire was the main data collecting instrument used for this study. The questionnaire for this study was designed using the online app ‘survey monkey’. The questionnaire comprised 10 multiple choices, and open/close ended questions. This instrument was particularly chosen by the researcher because it was almost the most convenient way data was to be gathered since all prospective respondents had tech devices they could use to access the online survey questionnaire. It was also the period of restrictive movement around the country due to the presence of the Corona virus disease and thus face to face interviews were virtually impossible.

1.3.1 Challenges for SLIs

The first research question sought to find out what challenges Sign Language Interpreter- SLIs would list as their top challenges that affected their work. Respondents were to state their top five (5) challenges. A total of 128 responses were received in response to this question. 49 different challenges were listed. An average of 4 challenges per respondent was realized. The top five most challenging situations are as follows in Table 4.2

1.3.2 Solutions to challenges

The second research question sought to find out from SLIs what possible solutions they prescribed for the identified challenges. Respondents were required to suggest one possible solution they would prescribe to the top challenges they had identified and prioritized. 29 different possible solutions were prescribed by interpreter respondents. Only one respondent did not suggest any solution. The table below shows the top five most prescribed solutions as stated by interpreter respondents.

1.4 How long have interpreters worked in Ghana?

The distribution also shows that Ghanaian interpreters have had between 2 to 35 years interpreting experience. Computational data also showed that sign language interpreters have had an average of 7.1 years interpreting experience in Ghana.

1.5 How often do interpreters work?

The study also sought to find out how often interpreters did interpreting work in Ghana. Respondents were to select from possible responses as; ‘all my work’, ‘weekly’, ‘not currently’ and ‘monthly’. Results from their responses have been illustrated below.

1.6 Findings, Conclusion and Recommendation

The major findings made from this study related to the two research questions are as follows.

  1. The top five challenges that make the work of SLI stressful in Ghana are:
  • Remuneration challenges
  • Lack of access to preparatory materials and needed information before going into an interpreting assignment
  • Late or short notices given to interpreters during invitations for jobs
  • Consumers/stakeholders’ lack of knowledge about interpreting services and procedures
  • Interpreters’ apparent deficiencies in sign language linguistics and knowledge


  1. The major suggestions given by respondents to minimize the identified challenges and subsequently help improve the quality of the interpreting job in the country are as follows.
  • There should be an established and sustainable regime to ensure interpreter training and education in Ghana.
  • NASLIG should lead the course for a vigorous interpreter advocacy and sensitization so as to sensitize the general populace and especially all within the interpreting community to be abreast with modern trends of interpreting.
  • NASLIG and GNAD may have to join forces to advocate vigorously for the legal recognition of sign language to be used as an official language in Ghana.
  • A national conference could be summoned by NASLIG to discuss and adopt remuneration standards for interpreters nationwide.
  • There must be year-in-year-out language training workshops and seminars on sign language for interpreters to be abreast with modern trends about the use of the language.

iii.        Other findings from the study include that…

  • Majority of SL interpreters in Ghana are between 35 – 44 years
  • The Ghanaian sign language interpreter has spent an average of 7.1 years in the field of interpreting in Ghana
  • Accra has been the location from which sign language interpreting activities have been predominant
  • 15 out of 30 respondents interviewed indicated that interpreting is their full-time job.

1.7 Conclusion

From the data collected, analyzed, and discussed, the following can be concluded.

  1. The interpreting profession in Ghana is facing challenges related to remuneration, lack of policy support, lack of education on interpreter theory/practice and lack of knowledge by stakeholders about the work of interpreting
  2. Professional interpreting in Ghana is at its early stages and needs a consistent and a resilient front to improve the profession to an enviable level.
  • Extra efforts are needed to ensure a consistent and continuous interpreter education and training within the Ghanaian interpreting space so as to align interpreter procedures with international standards.

1.8 Recommendations

The following are suggestions for future studies and research as prescribed by this study

This study focused on Sign Language Interpreters, seeking their views and perspectives to understand the challenges they face. Further study could consider the views and perceptions deaf individuals, or interpreter recruiters have about interpreters


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