Bottlenecked and Backlogged: Eventually the Demand for Interpreters’ Services will Explode

I may be wrong, but the way I see it is that you can only delay and deflect for so long.  At some point it will all come bubbling up. Since the COVID-19 pandemic really hit home here in Canada, interpreters have seen unprecedented numbers of cancelled, postponed or rescheduled appointments. Interpreters, along with many others, have had their livelihoods snatched from under their feet. But when life gets back to some form of normal, not only will many of these previous appointments re-emerge with clients and public services in need of interpreters, but the need will inevitably be greater than before.

More cases, more need, and more demand.

Interpreters will become even more essential to the fabric of Canadian society.

When we start to come out of our homes and cautiously resume our activities, those areas that were most critical – justice, health care, mental health, and education – will be the first to resume. And there will be more on the horizon.

While the news coverage these days seems to be almost entirely about COVID-19, and understandably so, life continues in the background. Many people will continue to struggle in areas including health, finances, substance abuse, violence, and legal issues; many of these are probably intensifying due to the disruptions that COVID-19 has brought to our lives, as we have had to socially distance ourselves from one another and adapt to new isolated lifestyles.

Although the demand for interpreting services may currently be low, once the pandemic restrictions are lifted, demand will return, and in all likelihood, be even greater than before.

I applaud the provincial and federal governments’ efforts to provide interpreting services for the ASL community. It is important that community members not only get the information they need, but that they also feel the same sense of community support and connection that those of us who speak English or French do.

In Saskatchewan, ASL services were provided only once the community sent in email requests for them to do so (‘I felt so included’: Sask. interpreter communicating COVID-19 information to deaf community, CBC News)

“I feel so included” 

Patricia Spicer, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services, Saskatchewan

Indeed, a sense of inclusion is especially critical in times of crisis. However, the very real need for information is also important – it is crucial for us in fighting and recovering from the pandemic. Lack of accurate information, or lack of access to that information, can lead to other complications and concerns:

“For me to get the information in my own language, it was a huge relief. I knew that I had to stay home. I knew I should wash my hands regularly.

I knew what to do. Without that I would still be worrying.” (CBC news)

Canada is home to people that speak  65 indigenous languages and dialects, and nearly 200 non-official languages. And we know that there is a struggle to get critical information to those populations that are excluded by language barriers.

To address this, the City of Calgary has set up an amazing Multilingual Resources Page that I highly encourage everyone to visit and to share among community members.

Sometimes simply finding the information for those that do not speak English or French, or face other communication access difficulties, is often challenging.

The resources that some of us take for granted, or assume as obligatory and common – internet, WIFI, phones, laptops, etc. – are not universally available. Moreover, going to see your doctor, or even to a walk-in clinic is a changing reality for many across Canada, with many clinics moving to ‘virtual-care services. Virtual services play an important role in supporting social distancing; however, they can exclude clients if adequate language access has not been provided.

Many organizations are now feeling this gap in services – a gap which was a pre-existing problem now highlighted by the pandemic.

Newcomers to Canada may not have the same reserves as those who have been here for some time. Health and other concerns can only be ignored so long. For some individuals and their families, staying in place can be a dangerous and unhealthy proposition.

Given the precarious subsistence of some families and individuals, stress can exacerbate an already difficult reality. Courts across the country have been put on hold, and prisons across the country are seeing increasing cases of COVID-19.  Even the IRB has suspended all in-person hearings.

The extensive list of services and businesses experiencing temporary closures and reduced activity has affected a  range of sectors: settlement services, education, justice, health, mental health, businesses, child-care, employment, financial services, and transportation have all been touched.

In my assessment, one of the many lessons that this pandemic world is teaching us is the importance of human outreach and connection, especially when we have been deprived of them.

It has been said that interpreters are the glue that hold a multilingual society together.

For once society emerges from this shared yet isolating experience, and people move through the bottlenecks and backlogs, interpreters’ services will be even more vital and in greater demand.

Some good things to do to turn downtime into SMART time:

Volunteer your language skills

  • Read – books for learning and for pleasure.
    • Check out and follow the #1ntbookreferrals on Instagram for recommendations from other interpreters – (Thank you to Mike Lemay/@miketheinterpreter for tip)