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(ITU) (Yonhap Interview) Take risks, be visible, says blind interpreter

2014/11/02 09:00

By Kang Yoon-seung

BUSAN, Nov. 2 (Yonhap) -- Jacques Salvador is one of the numerous interpreters working at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Plenipotentiary Conference being held in Busan, where statements and documents are delivered in six official U.N. languages.

While other colleagues are holed up in booths and immersed in watching the screens and looking at notes, Salvador does not rely on any visual information. Instead, he uses only his ears and hands to "read" from a Braille terminal.

Despite being completely blind, Salvador has worked around the globe as an interpreter. The goal of connecting the world through telecommunication and technology, the central agenda for the ITU, is, in a way, embodied in him.

"I've always had problems of sight all my life, but I became completely blind at 18," Salvador, 46, said in his interview Friday with Yonhap News Agency. Based in Geneva, the French-born interpreter served in a multitude of international organizations, including the ITU, the U.N., and the World Health Organization. He speaks French, English, Russian, Spanish and Italian.

French-born interpreter Jacques Salvador at the venue of the International Telecommunications Union Plenipotentiary Conference being held in Busan on Oct. 30, 2014. (Yonhap) French-born interpreter Jacques Salvador at the venue of the International Telecommunications Union Plenipotentiary Conference being held in Busan on Oct. 30, 2014. (Yonhap)

While the secret to learning numerous languages lies in passion, it was the recent advancement in technologies that enabled him to utilize his skills and develop his career.

"Now thanks to ICT, and thanks to the whole work done by the ITU to allow disabled people to access to new technologies, we don't have major problems in accessing to texts," Salvador said, showing his smartphone with voice features that allow him to "hear" screens.

Salvador said policymakers around the globe should think about applying ICT (information, communication, technology) for people like him rather than providing short-term financial support.

He acknowledges that such ICT support will be costly. The Braille terminal that he uses costs around 8,000 euros (US$10,100)

"There is cost, and this cost must be shared within the whole user population, and not just by disabled people. If the cost is shared, it will be painless. If the cost is not shared, it will be extremely painful," Salvador said.

"Too many disabled people who are perfectly intelligent and have perfect capacity have no jobs," he said. "What we want is not to depend on welfare but to have a normal life."

   The interpreter said he can "balance" the difficulties in his work by concentrating extra hard. However, despite such efforts, Salvador said the true wall is the discrimination, being prejudged unfairly due to his physical condition.

"People were not very used to it. Some chief interpreters see (hiring people with disabilities) as sort of risks. For example, (they ask) simple questions like 'Are you going to be on time at the booth? Are you going to rely on your colleagues to do this and this? And so on," he said. "All these are just not true."

   Salvador said he has never been late to a booth, and people eventually regret such remarks. "Discrimination is due to ignorance and lack of visibility," he said.

One of the most memorable moments of his career was when he interpreted for the head of the U.N., Salvador said.

"When I interpreted for U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, I was in my booth, he was in the room. He did not even know a blind interpreter interpreted him. And that means I did my job like everybody else," he said.

The interpreter encouraged the young with disabilities to continue making efforts. "Take the risk, don't be afraid. Be visible," he said.

colin@yna.co.kr

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