Thursday 6 August, 2020

Bonnie Leonce - Unsung hero on the frontlines in COVID-19 fight

Bonnie Leonce

Bonnie Leonce

She communicates but does not speak.

She says a lot without using words.

With her hands and through her signs, she makes Barbados a more inclusive society.

Bonnie Leonce is the interpreter who everyone in Barbados has come to know over the years, but she's also the one who people have come to empathise with, sympathise with and even love since COVID-19.

It's funny how she moved from that little circle in the corner of the television screen during the CBC TV News when the anchors spoke, to taking up the right side of the screen and even being present when the anchors cutaway to news clips. Bonnie moved from bringing the highlights and recap of the news for the Deaf community to being in the hearts of even members of the hearing community.

Bonnie has been an interpreter for 25 years. Bonnie is a wife, mother of three and a teacher of sign language, along with being an interpreter and recent graduate who now holds a BSc in ASL/English Interpreting. Bonnie's hands are full literally and figuratively.

Loop has worked with Bonnie in the past to keep the Deaf abreast of major developments or occurrences in Barbados.

Today is Bonnie Leonce's birthday and Loop thought it fitting to share a bit of her story and chapter on this COVID-19 journey. Since Barbados' first COVID-19 cases on March 16, Bonnie has signed for seven minutes with pre-recorded messages, and Bonnie has signed for what felt like 40 days and 40 nights but was in fact three plus or four hours straight. Bonnie is that essential frontline worker who many have only now seen for the first time, truly.

Loop: Would you say 2020 put your skills to the test most?

Bonnie Leonce: Yes, like never before. I am my biggest critic so sometimes after an interpretation I always wonder if or how I could have been clearer. I've also been watching other interpreters internationally when it comes to vocabulary especially as it pertains to COVID. We're all still learning how best to convey certain concepts.

Loop: How has it been managing the evening news and press conference?

Bonnie Leonce: Challenging. I've had to adjust mentally for the task, but once I know about the press conference in advance it's easy to plan since the Evening News is a set time.

Loop: Did you have to study signs or even combine signs for COVID-19 interpreting?

Bonnie Leonce: Yes and yes. I'm still learning concepts which are different from the actual signs themselves.

Loop: How easy or difficult is it trying to sign and explain social distancing and contact tracing?

Bonnie Leonce: Conveying social distancing is an easy concept. Contact tracing requires a bit more to convey accurately.

Loop: How have the deaf been responding to you after press conferences? Have they needed more clarity?

Bonnie Leonce: Needed more clarity? No. Needed more information? Yes. For example......when the PM, Acting PM or GG gives a recorded statement, I'm not usually there so I get the link sent to me after it airs on Youtube. I listen and interpret it at home then send to a friend to put the Youtube video and mine together. I've been busy. Another example is the CNN interview with the PM. I did that and sent it out. Even the interview on Mornin' Barbados with Beverley who recovered from COVID. The community asked me to interpret it. 

The Deaf are a part of us. They are Bajan and want to know everything that concerns us.

Loop: What is the hardest thing about navigating this time as an interpreter?

Bonnie Leonce: Rest. Finding time to rest. I am out of my home every day so resting AND eating properly is key.



Loop: Have you ever had to hold back your own personal reaction to some of this news or do you find your emotions adding to signing at any time?

Bonnie Leonce: Good question. Interpreters are trained to be "emotionless" in the sense that we are not to interject our personal opinions or feelings when interpreting. We can do this easily with facial expressions.

However, what we have to be true to, is the content and spirit of the message. Interpreting is not primarily about the interpreter but rather the Deaf or hard of hearing consumer.

One more thing on this topic, while all the above is true, interpreters are human beings. We struggle with content that can be heart-wrenching or triggering for us individually. There are times after an assignment where I get into my vehicle and cry. We are still human.

Loop: Like when you were signing at a presser held at Ilaro Court and the Doctor said the youngest patient is seven years old, how did you feel hearing and learning that and having to sign it?

Bonnie Leonce: Again, we as interpreters feel. So it does impact us emotionally, but we press on.

Loop: Having been included every step of the way since the initial misstep how do you feel knowing that the deaf were not left by the wayside?

Bonnie Leonce: People are waking up to inclusion. Interpreters in this COVID era are constantly on TV - impressive. But there will be life after COVID and I hope this access continues. Deaf people aren't going anywhere and have a right to information.

I don't speak for them as they are quite capable. As a matter of fact, it is because they voiced their desire and right to be included that they have been having access to the briefings. Our Bajan Deaf community is vocal and is making sure they are kept in the loop about all that everyone else is privy to.

May this be the beginning of complete access and inclusion.

Loop: Next up, for Bonnie will helping the Deaf navigate another hurricane season safely, while social distancing this time.


Video caption: Bonnie signs updates about Tropical Storm Kirk (2018)

Happy Birthday, Bonnie!

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