Interpreter seeks to connect with the deaf community

Business spotlight: Sign language interpreter services

By Madeline Otten, Correspondent

Seán Sopht wants to use his skills as a sign language interpreter to help deaf people in Fluvanna communicate with those around them in educational, medical, business or other situations.

Moving across the country from Orange County, Calif., Seán Sopht and his wife, Carol, came to Virginia in 2012 to establish their new lives. In June 2017 they settled into the Fork Union area.

Sopht brings a different kind of business to the local community. By passing all the requirements for the Virginia Quality Assurance Screening (VAQS), Sopht is a certified American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter for Virginia. Before moving to Fluvanna, he worked out of an agency based in Richmond before he branched off on his own.

“The agency was the middleman. But now I’m more in the driver’s seat,” said Sopht.

Sopht did not plan on becoming an interpreter. His focus in college was in the automotive industry; however, he and his mother took sign language classes at Saddleback Community College in southern California. Those classes sparked his interest.
“I never wanted to be an interpreter. Growing up I noticed sign language and thought it was cool,” said Sopht. “But when I got to college, I saw a class offering and took the opportunity to learn it. I enjoyed it so much that I eventually ran out of sign language classes and took the interpreter classes.”

While the classes played a big role, Sopht also attributed some of his success to one of his previous instructors, Jen Stephenson.

Once Sopht finished the program at Saddleback Community College, Stephenson brought him on assignments through the agency in which she worked. She also encouraged him to go to the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) conference, the industry’s biggest biannual conference.

“She really helped transition me to a professional field. She exposed me to work as an interpreter and connected me to an agency,” said Sopht.

As an independent contractor he now gets to make his own schedule. Sopht has done assignments with all ages. He has worked within public schools through primary and secondary education as well as helping senior citizens, doctors’ offices, business meetings, and even job trainings and orientation.

Some might think not having a 9-to-5 schedule makes a job easy, but being an ASL interpreter can bring challenges. Interpreters have standards when they take on a job assignment. They have to make sure they know what they signed up for when taking a job and that they meet the requirements.

Some interpreters joke that their hands get tired after signing for so long, but there is some stress that comes with the job. “The mental stress is something I dislike. It is the stress caused by letting someone down. That is what makes me a little vulnerable,” said Sopht. However, the pros of this profession outweigh the cons.

“I do love the access to a rich, linguistic, cultural minority. The language gives me a door into this community and there are groups of people out there that are really fascinating,” said Sopht. He described many everyday professions having deaf workers, such as doctors, pharmacists and philanthropists. “The deaf community is often overlooked and it is enjoyable to have that access to it,” he said.

Different states have different requirements, but interpreters may take the national certification test through the RID and receive their National Interpreter Certification (NIC). This test is more expensive to take, but it is nationally ranked, opening more opportunities for the interpreter.

Sopht sees himself still interpreting in the years to come, but imagines being better connected to the deaf community around him. While he claims that more work is done within metropolitan areas such as Charlottesville and Richmond, there could be events here in Fluvanna with which he could help.

To arrange a free consultation or to reach out as a fellow interpreter, contact Sopht at 949-282-7495 or
“Connecting to a community is important to me,” said Sopht. “I am new in the area, so that does not mean there is not a deaf community. It just goes back to getting to know the community better.”

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