On September 8, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) published 24019:2022 Simultaneous Interpreting Delivery Platforms: Requirements and Recommendations, which replaced the Publicly Available Specification published in 2020. Simultaneous Interpreting Delivery Platforms (SIDPs) became commonplace with the onset of the pandemic. But complaints, health concerns and even strikes among conference interpreters at some of the world’s top international institutions have been in the news of late. The new standard seeks to ensure that simultaneous interpreters can perform their jobs under reasonable and safe working conditions, so that the listeners can benefit as intended. But it does so in a unique, clear, and fresh way: the standard is not just about technology provided by platforms; it also addresses the responsibilities of various stakeholders and their interdependency, requiring them to work together to achieve compliance.
The earlier document provided basic quality standards in a wild-west RSI market, focusing on audio and video signals to interpreters and from interpreters to listeners and participants, while also providing recommendations for an interpreter’s remote working environment. In the process of trying to create a meaningful final document, it was clear that a new approach was required; establishing standards for the platforms was not enough because of the number of variables involved that are outside of their control. This created a challenge for experts from around the world of the ISO Working Group for Facilities and Equipment for Interpreting Services. A creative restructuring of the document resulted in identifying three critical stakeholders: 1) speakers and signers, 2) platform providers, and 3) interpreters; each with its own set of requirements; and highlighted the interdependence of these roles. All three stakeholders must follow the requirements to achieve compliance.
If a speaker does not use a proper microphone and creates poor sound, the platform provider cannot reproduce quality sound to the interpreter, compromising both the interpreter’s ability to work and the quality for the listener. This is the case even if the interpreter and the platform provider are otherwise compliant. The new standard gives interpreters, language service providers, platform providers and international institutions the necessary leverage to require that speakers and signers work with proper equipment – addressing one of the biggest complaints in the industry.
The standard addresses interface features and controls for interpreters across platforms, mimicking the consistency of standards for on-site hardware that professional conference interpreters are accustomed to. A live microphone in the broadcast world is indicated by the color red; yet many platforms use other colors. Such interface standards will provide consistency for interpreters working with different platforms.
While there has been a surge in the return to on-site events in recent months, remote interpreting platforms have a solid place in the market, with new players emerging as technology advances. They will continue to be needed for hybrid solutions as well as for new remote-only events, such as global town halls, that cannot be done on-site for practical reasons. Even fully on-site events need backup options due to the continued expected impact of global health or climate incidents.
Many of the top platform providers are compliant or nearly compliant with respect to their own role and responsibilities. And professional interpreters overall are also largely compliant. But how exactly is the standard to be communicated to speakers and signers? Simple: the standard requires platform providers to make their users, including interpreters and speakers and signers, aware of the responsibilities of each stakeholder, to achieve compliance – a breakthrough in accountability.
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Naomi Bowman, CEO of DS-Interpretation, Inc., represents the USA as an official technical expert to ISO TC 37/SC 5 for Translation, Interpretation and Related Technology, and was Project Editor for ISO 24019.