Saturday 19 June 2021

Gesture politics: ‘Irma effect’ boosts numbers of sign language students

Irma Sluis interpreting at a press conference. Photo: ANP/ Robin Utrecht

Utrecht’s university of applied sciences has experienced a surge in the number of students wanting to become sign language interpreters.

This year 112 people have enrolled for its course in sign language training, 33 more than a year ago. A spokesman told NOS the rise appeared to be partly caused by the ‘Irma effect’, referring to sign language interpreter Irma Sluis.

Sluis has become a familiar face at the government’s coronavirus press conferences and won renown for her use of the sign for ‘hamsteren’ (hoarding) to warn people not to panic buy toilet paper and other household essentials.

The university (Hogeschool Utrecht) said it was pleased with the public response but urged prospective interpreters not to expect fame or recognition.

‘The Irma effect is really good, but as a sign language interpreter you’re not in the spotlight,’ he said. ‘It’s something you do for other people.’

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