By Dustin Turner


It has been said that if you have a job doing what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. That is true for Lesley Klepec, of Aiken.

Klepec is a nationally certified sign language interpreter. “I interpret all over South Carolina in many different situations. I’ve interpreted in court, theater, universities, doctors appointments, job orientations, job interviews and much more.”

She became an interpreter after going to school for something completely different. “I started off at Wayne State University in Detroit for public relations and hated it. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew it was not that. I came home telling my parents I was quitting college and that was that! My mum—in the middle of us arguing about it—asked me what I enjoy doing. I angrily blurted out ‘I like sign language!’ And the rest is history. I do not feel like I work, and I am not one of the people who gets up every day hating my job.”

For her, it is a job, a passion and something that she volunteers time doing, especially for live theater performances and church services. “I will sometimes volunteer my time to interpret for political candidates, theater and churches and funerals in order to give some Deaf and Hard of Hearing who may not have the ability to participate and have access to the information the same as anyone else,” she says.

Call it Deaf

And, yes, the preferred term is Deaf, with a capital “D.” As Klepec explains: “Hearing-impaired is considered a negative label in the Deaf community. They prefer the terms Deaf or Hard of Hearing. The D in Deaf is capitalized because it is a culture with its own language, politics—they have state and national boards with Deaf board members that work with state and federal governments—and their own places of worship.”

The interpreter code of conduct says interpreters always should be compensated, but Klepec finds compensation isn’t always monetary. “I feel I am compensated by getting to attend rallies and shows for nothing,” Klepec says, “and I always enjoy myself. As far as funerals and making money off of someone’s grief, that just isn’t something I can do.”

Originally from Scotland, as a child, Klepec spent the school year in and the time off from school home in Scotland. She grew up with a Deaf cousin, so she became fluent in British Sign Language. She knows British and American sign languages, though says she is more proficient in British.

Klepec volunteers a lot of her time because she feels strongly that the Deaf deserve to enjoy theater and church. “They should be able to understand what’s going on at the funeral of a loved one,” she says, “and have access to the information of a potential presidential candidate. For the hearing community, they have constant access; they merely have to show up. We in the hearing community can do things such as take notes and listen at the same time. The Deaf and Hard of Hearing community doesn’t have that luxury. For example, they may get one or two interpreted shows at a theater a year. They don’t get to choose which ones are interpreted; they just have to hope they enjoy it. I believe in bridging the communication gap where I can.”

Bridging the Communications Gap

Klepec not only works and volunteers, but she and husband Ian have four children—a 3-year-old daughter, Elora, and 2-year-old triplets (all of whom know some sign language). “We are very fortunate that we have both grandmothers living in South Carolina, also. They followed us down here after we moved. They watch the kids while my husband and I work. I am very fortunate to have a husband who understands this is a passion of mine and is willing to support me and watch the children while I interpret shows and rallies and whatever else pops up.”

Though short on time right now, Klepec says she would one day like to volunteer for SCAD—the South Carolina Association of the Deaf. She also attends workshops all over the country with other interpreters, Deaf and Hard of Hearing. “These are where we go to get taught by individuals who have expertise in a certain area of interpreting. It is also a place where we go to socialize, network and immerse ourselves in American Sign Language.”

American Sign Language is a beautiful language, Klepec says. “People all the time will say they absolutely love watching the interpreter. ASL is a conceptual language. It has its own syntax and its own grammar. It is a misconception that sign language is English in the form of sign. There is not an American Sign Language equivalent for every English word. Interpreters have to take what is said in English translate it and sign it to the client while still taking in the English. It is a very involved process. That is why for any assignment over two hours you tend to see two interpreters. Mental fatigue starts to set in at around 20 minutes. This is why we switch off with a partner. We deal in a lot of synonyms and have to find a way to get the concept across clearly.”

It might be mentally fatiguing at times, but Klepec says she really enjoys it. “My selfie with Bill Clinton was pretty cool! Going in a tour of the Rouge plant with the Ford family was also pretty awesome. My first love will always be theater. Interpreting at Aiken Community Playhouse is always the most fun.”

Dustin Turner is an Aiken writer and editor. He and his wife, Jamie, have one daughter.


This article appears in the April 2016 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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