Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Signs of success

For Jenn Wilson, graduating from the Sign Language Interpretation Program at Douglas College was more than the end of her educational career: it was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream and the continuation of a family tradition.

In joining the ranks of sign language interpreters in B.C, Jenn follows in the pioneering footsteps of her mother, Janice Lyons. Janice came to Douglas in 1988, where she worked with the Sign Language Interpretation program, first as a lab tech and later as a program assistant. Later, she joined the program as a student and graduated in 1998 as the first credentialed Deaf interpreter in Canada. Today, she’s the Head of Interpreting Services (Community Interpreting Services and Medical Interpreting Services) at Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.


“I wanted to demonstrate the importance of having a diploma and ensuring interpretation services are facilitated as professionally as possible,” recalls Janice.

Growing up with American Sign Language (ASL) as her first language (her father is also deaf) sparked Jenn’s interest in interpreting early on.

“I’ve had a passion for interpreting ever since I was little,” says Jenn. “I’d been working with my mom at the Western Institute for about nine years and finally just decided to go for it as a career.”

The Sign Language Interpretation Program at Douglas College prepares people to facilitate communication between hearing and Deaf people in a wide variety of settings including medical, educational, legal and in community.

Once she joined the program Jenn soon learned that, despite her extensive grounding in sign language and experience translating, she still had a lot to learn about the nuances of working as a professional interpreter.

“I went in with a bit of the attitude that because I knew ASL, I didn’t need to learn any more, but the program taught me so much about the interpreting process,” she recalls. “We learned a lot about adjusting to different people’s communications needs and the important role you have facilitating communication between two parties. Deaf people have struggled for many years and so you have to be careful with how you manage that responsibility.”

Jenn finished the two-year program top of her class, much to the delight of her mother.

“I’m so proud of her. I was pleased she took the program, and her determination to do well really impressed me,” said Janice. “I hope she’ll be an example to other children of deaf parents who might be interested in taking the program.”

For the moment, Jenn is working as a freelance interpreter and plans to explore her career options in the fall.

“I love what I’m doing and so happy to be doing it,” said Jenn.