School of Deaf & Deafblind Studies students gain real-world interpretation experience at Toronto's Ripley's Aquarium

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ASL student Maryam Alwan at Ripley's Aquarium

George Brown College students from the School of Deaf and Deafblind Studies are gaining real-world experience at one of Toronto’s top tourist attractions, Ripley’s Aquarium, where they provide ASL (American Sign Language) interpretation every week.  

Maryam Alwan (pictured) and Nico Abad are students in their fourth and final year of the Honours Bachelor of Interpretation (ASL – English) program. They’re among the students in the program delivering ASL interpretation services at the aquarium once a week for daily Aquarist Talks, also known as Tank Talks, at the aquarium's Ray Bay gallery. 

Nico said providing interpretation services at a well-known attraction seemed intimidating at first but soon brought meaningful opportunities to sharpen technical and soft skills. 

"One of the biggest learnings so far has been developing the soft skills of communicating with colleagues and explaining what interpreting means, what it looks like, and how to work with an interpreter," Nico said. "It's not an experience people are often used to. As an interpreter, learning how to ask for the things I need and to be specific is important. And it means we'll continue to have a good relationship throughout these presentations, which will help support the interpretation in the future." 

Delivering ‘comfortable and confident’ ASL interpretation  

The Ripley's partnership provides the chance to practice "comfortable and confident" interpretation, Maryam says. This includes building a rapport with aquarium presenters and fellow interpreters. For example, before each presentation, students meet with aquarium staff to review the content and discuss any tricky terminology or spelling. Student interpreters then discuss how they'll handle challenging material so their interpretations are consistent. Two students provide interpretation for each presentation. 

"A big part of this is working with a team. When you decide how you will interpret something, you have to share it with your teammates to provide a smooth and understandable interpretation," Maryam said. 

This partnership began in the fall and Nico, Maryam and their fellow classmates will continue to provide ASL interpretation services at Ripley’s until April. 

Studying ASL to benefit their communities 

Nico and Maryam came to George Brown College's School of Deaf and Deafblind Studies to improve accessibility in their communities. 

Before coming to George Brown, Nico, a member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, noticed while working in the community that "we struggle to communicate with Deaf queer people that would come to our business." 

"I want to do better by my community members," Nico said.  

Nico and Maryam completed the ASL and Deaf Studies program before moving into the Honours Bachelor of Interpretation program. 

Maryam came to George Brown to increase accessibility within the Muslim community. She said ASL interpreting in religious spaces is generally done on a volunteer basis. 

"It's really on the shoulders of Muslims to go out and learn ASL and to become an interpreter so we can bridge that gap," she said. "That's what inspired me as a young high schooler." 

Learn more about programs at the School of Deaf and Deafblind Studies.