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Surprising Injury Risk for Sign Language Interpreters

Interpreting Puts More Stress on Extremities than Industrial Labor
From an outside perspective, interpreting does not seem like a dangerous line of work. But the ergonomic risks are surprisingly high. Researchers have found that signing causes more stress on the extremities than high-risk tasks in industrial jobs, including assembly line work. Furthermore, there is a direct link between the mental stress of the interpreter and the risk of injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.
"The impact of repetitive stress in industrial and office settings has been well documented, but there is less data on the risk of ergonomic injury to sign language interpreters,- says Matthew Marshall, associate professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and lead researcher.  "Our findings indicate that interpreters may actually be at a higher risk of injury than other professions.-
Every Interpreter Counts
Losing skilled signers because of injuries is a problem for the deaf community, because any drop in the interpreter population would further restrict the full participation of the deaf and hard-of-hearing in society.
The RIT team studied a group of interpreters and measured the physical impact of signing over a fixed time period. The team found that wrist velocity and acceleration during interpreting were more acute than the high risk limits for industrial workers.  In addition, an increase in mental and cognitive stress led to a 15-19 percent increase in wrist velocity and acceleration during interpreting.
Employers need to develop training programs that focus on reducing repetitive signing injuries. "The ultimate goal is to enhance knowledge of the impacts of interpreting and help make the profession more conducive for workers,- notes Marshall.

By Adam Herschkowitz
Get Interpreter Jobs, Contributing Editor

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