The well-being of sign language interpreters in rapidly changed and ever changing times

If we have ever been challenged and have needed to resort to strategies to cope with the everchanging day-to-day life, it has been in 2020, and it continues to be the case in 2021. Finding a healthy balance to navigate the “new normal” requires strategies and coping mechanisms. I wrote the following article on the well-being of sign language interpreters during the pandemic for the WASLI Newsletter, inspired by a workshop offered by Lianne Nap:

Vlaamse Gebarentaal vlog

2020 has ended and what a strange and challenging year it has been. It has also shown us how resilient we can be and how we, no matter what, are and stay connected. Our profession had to respond and adapt to the new reality of interpreting during a pandemic where we find ourselves “locked down”. And whereas we have tackled the practical and technological challenges, turned our homes in interpreting studios and trained ourselves in becoming tech-savvy, what have we done to make sure that we are coping with these changes on a personal, psychological and emotional level?

In November, WASLI Secretary, Isabelle Heyerick as the founder and Vice-President of Tenuto vzw (an organisation offering continuous professional development for Flemish Sign Language interpreters) co-organised and attended a webinar on reflection through the concept of mirror play facilitated by Lianne Nap ( The webinar invited colleagues to reflect on how the physical and technological changes impact their overall energy and how they can tip the scale to the positive. 

At the end of this webinar the impression remained that signed language interpreters have addressed the technological adjustments but are neglecting the mental strain interpreting from home is posing. It is necessary to know the technological and practical ins and outs of interpreting during a pandemic: the technology and equipment we need to be able to do our job. However, it is also necessary to know what we need to safeguard our mental well-being. Lianne pointed out: we are our own tool, there is no replacement if we break. This is especially true when professional and personal boundaries are blurred and our work enters our private homes, and vice versa. We are currently not only interpreters working from our own home, we are also all the other facets of our person in that home, managing our personal, private and professional lives (and the ones we interpret for and with) in one space. The impact of this changed reality should not be underestimated and should be addressed so that we can continue to do the job we love.

“We are our own tool, there is no replacement if we break!”

WASLI encourages interpreter associations and organisations to explore opportunities to devote attention to this topic and ways to address it. For instance, some of our regions have established closed Facebook groups where interpreters can discuss the challenges and support each other. 

Below we gladly provide other examples of what organisations have offered or are offering to their members, which can serve as inspiration. However, if an organised approach is not (yet) possible, getting in touch with your colleague(s) to have a “we are in this together and we will get through this together” chat might be simply enough.

Want to know how colleagues all over the world have experienced and dealt with the professional changes and challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic? Have a look at the results of the surveys carried out by dr. Maartje De Meulder, Oliver Pouliot , and Karolien Gebruers; research report in English , interview in IS, and article in Dutch

* While writing this blog the amazing Twitter account @VirtualNotViral organised a Tweet chat on the subject of well-being with guest Narelle Lemon with some great tips and resources, which they allowed me to share in this blog. You can also read the full archived Tweet chat.

Inspiration for well-being:

ASLI (UK) has a Well-Being fund and offers mentoring opportunities.

NUBSLI (UK) has a buddy scheme, which has been introduced in Belgium, Flanders by Tenuto vzw and BVGT vzw.

AFILS (France) invites interpreters to reflect on the practice of online interpreting. Dossier avec le point de départ de réflexions à mener plus largement sur les pratiques d’interprétation à distance

CIT has an article on “Teaching interpreters about self-care”

The Lean Podcast. With a dedicated episode on Self-Care and four episodes on Remote Interpreting including a session about boundaries

Marjory Bancroft webinar “You’re Worth It! Self-care for Remote Interpreters an Urgent Priority”.

360 supervision has a dedicated area with blogs from various contributors, some focussing on well-being of SLI during the pandemic:

Dr. Narelle Lemon is a self-care advocate who started a daily mindful exercise since the start of the pandemic called #meditation5431. Give it a try!

Published by

Isabelle Heyerick

My area of expertise is signed language interpreting and my research is situated on the intersection of (applied) linguistics, intercultural studies and language ideologies. I hold a PhD in Linguistics, a MA in Linguistics and a MA in Interpreting. My PhD is a first exploration of which linguistic interpreting strategies Flemish Sign Language interpreters use and why. My postdoctoral research investigated how discourses and ideologies about deaf people and signed languages prevalent in both the majority society and in the Deaf communities influence the linguistic decisions signed language interpreters make in their actual practice. Currently I am an Assistant Professor in Applied Sign Linguistics at the Centre for Deaf Studies at Trinity College Dublin (Ireland). I am the secretary of the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters and the vice-president of Tenuto, an organisation offering continuous professional development for sign language interpreters.

2 thoughts on “The well-being of sign language interpreters in rapidly changed and ever changing times”

  1. Geweldig!! Jij werkt zo hard!

    Waar ik wel benieuwd naar ben is hoe je je gebarenfilm opneemt. Doe je dat uit je hoofd, of heb je steekwoorden voor je neus staan?

    Hartelijke groet, Lianne Nap, MSc


    Supervisor, LVSC nr. NAP004 Tolk NGT-NL, RTGS nr. 58



    1. Bedankt voor je enthousiaste reactie en voor de inspiratie! Deze deed ik uit het hoofd. Bij andere heb ik wel es met visuele cues gewerkt als ondersteuning (woorden-skelet noem ik het).


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