Building Bridges: The Special Olympics World Games 2023

In an exclusive interview with the language coordinators of the Special Olympics World Games 2023, we delve into the pivotal role of interpretation in creating an event that celebrates diversity and inclusivity on a global scale. 

The Special Olympics World Games 2023 in Berlin was not just a sporting event; it was a celebration of inclusivity on a global scale. With 7,000 athletes, 16,000 volunteers, and over 300,000 spectators, it marked a historic moment as Germany hosted this prestigious event for the first time, embracing inclusivity at its core.

From June 17th to June 25th, 2023, Berlin transformed into a vibrant stage where athletes with intellectual and multiple disabilities showcased their talents side by side. Behind the scenes, Daniela Eichmeyer-Hell (Language Specialist, Senior Manager) and Benjamin Gross (Coordinator), the organizers of the Special Olympics World Games Language Services, played pivotal roles in ensuring the event’s success. As the driving force behind the largest inclusion event, their focus was clear: to make the event accessible to everyone who wished to participate, regardless of language barriers or abilities.

In this exclusive interview, we delve into the journey Benjamin and Daniela undertook to overcome logistical and other hurdles in order to provide language services at such a monumental event, transitioning 70 interpreters from traditional analog systems to a digital solution. Finally, we explore the concept of inclusion and the indispensable role of language within this framework. Join us as we unravel the stories behind the scenes of the Special Olympics World Games 2023 and discover the transformative power of language in fostering true inclusivity.

 

LiveVoice: Hi Benjamin and Daniela, thank you for joining us today. We are excited to hear more about your experience at the Special Olympics World Games 2023 as well as the role of LiveVoice in the midst of this event. Could you start by giving us a brief introduction of who you are and what your role at the Special Olympics was?

Benjamin: Sure. My name is Benjamin, and I work as a conference interpreter. Alongside my colleague Daniela, I had the privilege of overseeing language coordination at the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin. Recently, I’ve embarked on a new role as Language Services Manager for the upcoming FISU World University Games , scheduled for 2025 in the Rhine-Ruhr region. This exciting event will celebrate university sports and culture on a global scale.

Daniela: And I’m Daniela, specializing in conference interpreting and speech-to-text interpreting across languages such as German, Spanish, English, and French. Our roles at the Special Olympics World Games involved providing language support across a diverse range of languages and variations, including English, German, Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic, Chinese Mandarin, Easy German, English Plain Language, German Sign Language, International Sign, and speech-to-text interpreting in both English and German, intralingually and interlingually. In addition to my work at the Special Olympics, I am a researcher in the field of interpreting, and also lecture at different universities, and I proudly serve as board member  of the Austrian Association for Speech-to-text interpreting (ÖSDV) and chair of the Bavarian Association of Speech-to-text Interpreters.

 

LiveVoice: That sounds fascinating. The Special Olympics must be an extraordinary event to organize. Could you tell us more about what it’s like to coordinate an event such as the special Olympics compared to other events you managed?

Daniela: Absolutely, coordinating an event like the Special Olympics World Games was a unique experience. What stood out most was the relentless focus on inclusion. Every aspect of the event, from planning to delivery, revolved around ensuring that all participants felt welcome and included.

Benjamin: Here the discovery of LiveVoice was a real game changer for us. It made providing interpretation services on a large scale much more manageable. I still remember the excitement from SOI, Special Olympics International, when we introduced LiveVoice. With a large number of participants and a variety of languages and accessibility needs to consider, LiveVoice made it much easier to ensure everyone had access to interpretation services. It was clear from the start that for the Special Olympics Movement, accessibility is a key focus.

 

I see interpretation as the cornerstone of inclusion. It acts as a bridge, filling the gaps in communication, and enabling people to exchange information and ideas seamlessly.

Daniela Eichmeyer-Hell

 

LiveVoice: Can you tell us more about the Special Olympics venue and particular challenges or conditions you encountered there?

Benjamin: Certainly! If you’ve ever visited Berlin, you know how spread out the different venues can be. Logistically, this posed a significant challenge for us because it wasn’t easy to troubleshoot issues when it could take up to 45 minutes to travel from one location to another. To address this, we established an interpretation hub, as it would have been impossible to have all the interpreters on site at the many different venues from a logistic point of view . With so many events happening simultaneously, we needed to remain flexible and adapt to changing situations. That’s where LiveVoice came in handy.

Daniela: Exactly. When our initial interpretation booths weren’t sufficient, we simply repurposed ordinary offices into additional interpreting workplaces. At one point, we even had nearly an entire office floor at Messe Berlin filled with interpreters! With LiveVoice, all they needed was their laptop, a headset and a stable internet connection, which proved to be invaluable, especially in such a dynamic setting.

 

LiveVoice: It’s truly impressive how you handled those challenges. Can you elaborate on the overall user experience with LiveVoice? Have you received any feedback from the interpreters, or would you like to share from your own experience?

Daniela: To be completely honest, most interpreters weren’t exactly thrilled when we informed them about the switch from traditional equipment to a digital platform. It’s important to recognize the demanding nature of our profession: maintaining focus while interpreting is essential, and transitioning to a new setup adds an additional layer of stress when trust in the setup hasn’t been established. 

Initially, we underestimated this aspect. However, after our initial trial, we began organizing individual meetings with the interpreters to walk them through LiveVoice’s functionality and its importance to their work. Additionally, we found it beneficial to explain why we chose LiveVoice – not just to cut costs, although that was a welcomed benefit, but primarily because it enabled us to scale interpretation services significantly as we delivered interpreting at many different kinds of venues, even outdoor. 

It would have been technically impossible to set up interpreting booths on an indoor pool-side or an outdoor field of play. Once we conveyed this rationale to the interpreters, the initial hesitancy faded, and it felt like we were all on the same page.

 

With so many events happening simultaneously, we needed to remain flexible and adapt to changing situations. That’s where LiveVoice came in handy.

Benjamin Gross

 

LiveVoice: That’s wonderful to hear. And it’s great that you took the initiative to guide them through the platform independently. Would you say LiveVoice was easy to navigate?

Benjamin: I’d say so. I spent some time exploring the website, created an account, and experimented with its various functions. I also took detailed notes and prepared a PowerPoint presentation to highlight the key features for the interpreters. You have to familiarize yourself a little – then it becomes quite straightforward to use.

 

LiveVoice: What does inclusion mean to you, and how do you perceive the connection between interpretation and inclusion?

Benjamin: To me, inclusion means ensuring that everyone has equal opportunities to fully participate in society. Here I like the definition in easy language: inclusion happens when everyone can take part. By creating an inclusive environment where everyone can participate regardless of their language or abilities, we promote social integration and a sense of belonging.

Daniela: Yes, I agree. To me, interpretation is the key to inclusion – bridging communication gaps. It connects people and facilitates the exchange of information and ideas. At events like the Special Olympics World Games, interpretation adds an extra layer of accessibility, ensuring that everyone gets access to the same information, regardless of language, hearing, cognitive, or vision capabilities. 

Oftentimes, when talking about inclusion, we think of wheelchair ramps and physical measures that make spaces accessible. But language, the access to information, is just as important to make people participate.

 

The issue isn’t a lack of concern for inclusion; rather, it stems from the systemic marginalization of people with disabilities. This relegation to the sidelines of society often results in their struggles being overlooked.

Benjamin Gross

 

LiveVoice: Beyond the Special Olympics, what are your thoughts on the status of inclusion in society?

Daniela: Well, inclusion is often portrayed as an adornment, like a flower or a ribbon, for organizations seeking to enhance their image. However, true inclusivity extends beyond mere optics. While it’s commendable that some environments prioritize accessibility, it often occurs when it’s convenient or advantageous to do so. The Special Olympics Movement stands out as a shining example where inclusion was not just an afterthought but woven into the fabric of every aspect of the event.

Benjamin: Absolutely. However, I believe the issue lies not in a lack of concern but rather in the systemic marginalization of people with disabilities, relegating them to the fringes of society where their struggles are often overlooked. 

 

LiveVoice: This is a big question but any ideas on how could this issue be tackled?

Benjamin: Well, fostering spaces and occasions for meaningful interaction between individuals of all abilities is crucial. In sports, for instance, such interactions offer invaluable opportunities for mutual understanding and empathy. It’s remarkable how encountering the realities of disabled individuals firsthand can shatter preconceived notions. Non-disabled individuals often don’t realize the barriers that people with disabilities face in their daily lives until they hear their stories firsthand. So, whether it’s in sports or other social settings, fostering these interactions is vital for promoting understanding and breaking down barriers.

Daniela: Absolutely, and the barriers disabled people encounter daily extend just as much into the digital space. In today’s world, where so much of our interaction happens online, it’s crucial that websites are accessible to everyone as well. Making websites compatible with screen readers and optimizing them for different visual needs is just as important as providing wheelchair ramps and accessible entrances in physical spaces. Creating inclusive digital environments ensures that everyone can effectively access and engage with digital content, fostering inclusivity beyond physical spaces.

 

LiveVoice: Thank you for sharing your insights and thoughts on that. As we conclude our interview, is there anything else you’d like to add?

Benjamin: I just wanted to point out that we really appreciated working with LiveVoice. From our very first interaction with Johannes, the CEO of LiveVoice, it was evident that your team genuinely cares about our cause and about fostering inclusion. While we understand that there’s a business aspect to our partnership, it’s clear that your commitment to our mission goes beyond mere transactions. Knowing that we could always reach someone from your team in case of problems was a huge relief for us. In the end, however, we never had to resort to that because everything on your end always ran smoothly and reliably! 

LiveVoice: Thank you for your kind words. It’s been incredibly insightful hearing about your experiences and the innovative ways you addressed challenges at the Special Olympics World Games 2023. Thank you both for sharing your stories and insights! 

The language coordinators Benjamin and Daniela with the Mascot of the Special Olympics 2023

 

Credits for the Title Image: Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023

Use Case

Simultaneous Interpretation

Smart live interpretation system for on-site, virtual and hybrid events. Translators and listeners can be located anywhere in the world.

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Julia Stockinger

Content Manager

Julia is our social butterfly who is driven by the impact LiveVoice makes in spreading accessibility. Currently pursuing her master's in Sweden, she passionately supports LiveVoice and its mission remotely.