Wendy Ingham doesn’t say a word, but she is probably the most animated part of the Bermuda government press conferences.
Signing keeps her moving; the island’s deaf population relies on her facial expressions and hand motions to keep up with the news of the day.
However, although it has raised the profile of the Bermuda Hospitals Board’s speech language pathologist, signing has been her life’s work.
Q: When did you learn to sign? Why?
A: My interest in sign language started more than 30 years ago after attending a family reunion where I observed a deaf cousin communicating. My first Signed Exact English class was with Ms Virginia Wilson at St Paul AME Church in Hamilton. At that time, learning the manual alphabet, my sign name and basic greetings was exciting, but the first time I signed in public, my legs felt like Jello. As my skills developed, I went on to interpret during church services.
Q: Did you learn American Sign Language here as well?
A: My desire to learn more about deaf culture and ASL, a more visual language, led to summer courses at Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf and hard of hearing in Washington DC. A fellow interpreter, Shona Henry, and I immersed ourselves into the deaf culture and studies. I remember being instructed to “turn off my voice and sign” to improve my receptive and expressive signing skills.
Q: What did you do with your signing once back home?
A: In addition to interpreting at church, I worked for the Ministry of Education as a sign language interpreter for both deaf students and teachers prior to furthering my studies as an SLP at Alabama A&M University in Huntsville, Alabama. I continue to provide services to the deaf community in a variety of settings: legal, medical, interviews, social, religious and meetings.
Q: What are some of the challenges facing the deaf community?
A: As an interpreter, I find there is a lack of community awareness, lack of funding to support services needed, decreased sensitivity and inadequate legislation. However, I commend the Bermuda Government for including sign language interpreters during emergency press conferences, ie, hurricanes and Covid-19 updates. This is definitely a step in the right direction and for this we are grateful.
Q: You often make strange faces while signing. Why?
A: The facial expression and body language should correspond with the mood and message being conveyed so, for example, when the Government uses a stern tone to remind people of the importance of staying home during Covid-19, the interpreter will relay the same expression to the deaf.
Q: Why do you always wear black?
A: When it comes to our attire, solid clothing that is in contrast to skin tone is visually easier and less distracting.
Q: Why do they use more than one interpreter during press conferences?
A: When possible, interpreters take turns to reduce the risk of physical injury, mental fatigue and/or to provide a break during intense situations. I’ve worked alongside [Shona] and Lawreida Cartwright for years. We are so in tune with each other that we can almost anticipate when assistance may be warranted. Therefore, we often work in pairs or as a team to help bridge the gap of communication between the deaf and hearing population. This bond has fostered a sense of confidence between us and the deaf community.
Q: Any long-term goals as far as developing signing in Bermuda?
A: Prior to Covid-19, we were working on establishing an island-wide meeting with all sign language interpreters to determine availability, etc. Once things have settled we will revisit the endeavour.
Q: I understand you also teach classes?
A: I am a Christian and consider my love for sign language a gift and a passion. I am a sign language interpreter and instructor for Yadah Sign Language Ministry at First Church of God [North Shore]. I give sign language classes on Saturdays for children and adults who wish to learn basic communication skills. I find it a joy teaching others to sign. The parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 reminds me of the importance of using and sharing what God has given me. One day, God willing, I too will hear Him say: “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
• To learn more about Wendy Ingham’s sign language classes: firstname.lastname@example.org