The ATA Chronicle - May/June 2020 - 12

FEATURE

BY KATHARINE ALLEN AND BARRY SLAUGHTER OLSEN

InterpretAmerica 2020: A Timely
Response to an Unprecedented Crisis
We all know the world will not be the same when we come out the other side
of this crisis. But we'll also have gained something immeasurably valuable in
our profession: solidarity.

I

n early March, when it became clear that
the world was headed toward global
lockdown because of the COVID-19
pandemic, the interpreting profession was
thrown into nearly universal chaos. The
greater part of the interpreting supply
chain, based largely on onsite, face-to-face
interactions, broke apart in a matter of days.
Reports of lost contracts and cancelled
jobs flooded in. The almost instantaneous
switch to remote communication worldwide
threatened to leave our profession behind.
But just as quickly, many in our field
jumped in to help our profession make the
switch to remote.
This year marks InterpretAmerica's 10th
anniversary, and we had been planning
an as-yet-unannounced celebratory event.
But COVID-19 made it immediately
apparent what we needed to do instead:
organize an online forum to spark as broad
a conversation as possible about the global
lockdown's effects on the provision of
interpreting services and what needed to be
done to adapt to this new reality.
And that's what we did. In the space
of seven short days, we announced,
organized, and successfully held
InterpretAmerica 2020: A Unified Response to
Ensure Access to Interpreting Services during
the Pandemic.1 The event went viral. More
12

The ATA Chronicle | May/June 2020

than 1,500 registered and 1,358 attended
live, representing 50 countries and five
continents. (See Figure 1 on page 13 for a
geographic breakdown of participants.)
Sixteen presenters gave five-minute
lightning talks interspersed with extensive
audience participation using the interactive
polling tool Mentimeter2 (two assistants
worked behind the scenes to keep the
polling running smoothly). The agenda
included a final session recapping the
feedback we received. Attendees could listen
in five languages (American Sign Language,
Arabic, English, Portuguese, and Spanish)
interpreted simultaneously over KUDO3,
a remote interpreting platform capable of
hosting online events with simultaneous
interpreting. It was an event that in any
normal time would have taken months to
set up, publicize, and run-not a single
week. But this is the reality-bending time
we're living through, when days can seem
like weeks and weeks like months.
ATA asked us to write up how this all
came together behind the scenes and what
we learned along the way. This is our report.

10 YEARS OF GROUNDWORK PAYS OFF
We founded InterpretAmerica in 2010
with a single purpose: to raise the profile

of interpreting. Over the past 10 years
we've held six national summits focused
on bringing together stakeholders from
across the field. At the very first summit,
our primary goal was simply to introduce
ourselves to each other. Our field was so
entrenched in separate silos that most of
us had never met. That founding event,
as well as efforts by many others, helped
break this isolation. Today, the interpreting
profession has built many crisscrossing
connections. We know each other a lot
better now, and the importance of that
should not be overlooked.
Over time, people across the interpreting
profession and language services
industry found value in what we had to
offer. We became effective conveners.
InterpretAmerica turned into the platform
where we could pursue big-picture
topics and contribute, in our own way,
to strengthening this profession we love.
We learned our way around organizing
a conference (our own and for others),
including live-streaming events. We stayed
on top of new technology and in touch
with the rapidly-changing landscape
in which interpreting takes place. We
gained expertise, particularly in remote
interpreting and interpreter employment
trends. So when the time came to act
extremely quickly to help where we could
at an international level, we had already
laid the necessary groundwork to do so.

AN UNLIKELY DRESS REHEARSAL
Fast forward to now. InterpretAmerica 2020
actually began with the postponement of
this year's Globalization and Localization
Association4 (GALA) annual conference due
to the coronavirus outbreak. For the past
six years, InterpretAmerica has provided
content related to interpreting through think!
Interpreting5, a conference it co-organizes
with GALA. When GALA was called off,
one of our planned events, a roundtable
discussion on interpreting and the fastgrowing area of interpreting technologies,
was shifted online to take place during the
week GALA would have been held in
mid-March.
The event, originally designed as an
interactive discussion about interpreting
within GALA, quickly morphed into a first
conversation about the threat COVID-19
represented to interpreting and business
continuity. Without meaning to, the
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