You may have noticed them during a recent coronavirus briefing, standing alongside a government official, interpreting critical public health information for the deaf and hard of hearing community; they are sign language interpreters. These dedicated linguists provide a vital service, promoting inclusivity and accessibility to critical information for all Americans.
Here at PGLS, we love our linguists, especially our team of American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters. Moreover, with National ASL Day falling on April 15th, we couldn’t let this month go by without giving a special shout out to honor these heroes who are often on the front lines of the battle, yet get little public recognition for the important work they do.
ASL is a visual language expressed through hand gestures, facial expressions, and body postures to convey a message. It’s estimated that some 28 million Americans (10% of the population) live with hearing loss, 2 million of which are classified as deaf. To these Americans, ASL and other visual or tactile languages are an indispensable part of everyday communication. ASL evolved as its own unique language from the innovative methods of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc, who together introduced the teaching of sign language in the United States. Learn more about the history of ASL in our blog Hands-On Languages! American Sign Language (ASL) or for a more in depth look at the complex world of ASL interpreting check out our Brief Introduction to American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreting.
With their unique, energetic, and expression-filled communication style, ASL interpreters have been helping to lift the spirits of many tuning into the COVID-19 briefings that have become a regular fixture of our lives today. Their constant, steady presence during this time of uncertainty is drawing attention and praise for sign language interpreters across the country.
And The Award Goes To…
The D.C. metropolitan area, including Northern Virginia and parts of Maryland, is home to some of the most prestigious schools for the deaf and hard of hearing, including the Maryland School for the Deaf and Gallaudet University. Local Maryland resident and Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI), Jimmy Beldon, has received a great deal of attention recently, even dubbed as ‘one of the best’ for his contributions supporting Gov. Larry Hogan and the more than 1.2 million deaf and hard of hearing Maryland residents.
Historically, ASL interpreters supporting press conferences might have been seen in a small box on screen. Now, during COVID-times, officials in Maryland felt it important to have an ASL interpreter on-site, face-to-face, a mere six feet away from Gov. Hogan as he speaks. Beldon, along with a team of ‘off-camera’ ASL interpreters, is providing a crucial service in the effort to keep residents safe and informed.
On April 15, National ASL Day, Gov. Hogan recognized Beldon with a Citation for Service. In a recent interview with the Baltimore Sun, Beldon opened up about his role as a CDI.
“I feel that this is my contribution,” Beldon said through interpreter Nancy Bender, “that I’m able to level the playing field for people who communicate using sign language.”
“This is incredibly important work. For all deaf and hard-of-hearing people in Maryland to have this kind of access, this direct access, it sends a strong message, a very important message.”
ASL: A Language full of Expression!
In Canada, Nigel Howard, the official B.C. press conference sign language interpreter, is receiving waves of attention for his work interpreting Dr. Bonnie Henry’s COVID-19 briefings. With the serious nature of these recent health briefings, public officials such as Dr. Henry, Regional Health Officer for B.C., do their best to keep a calm demeanor to ease anxiety. Whereas sign language interpreters rely heavily on facial expression and body language to supplement their ASL signs to get across the proper tone and inflections. Howard’s style of interpreting is full of enthusiasm and amazing facial expression, some even refer to it as ‘modern dance’. His technique and style has awarded him the title of ‘ASL sensation’, and he even boasts his own ‘Nigel Howard ASL Interpreter Fan Club’, created by admirers who share photos and their favorite Howard interpreting moments.
Nigel himself explains that, “It’s part of the Signed Language to be expressive, as it shows the facial grammar, non-manual signals,”. This is a vital part of sign language interpreting that those of us who are hearing may never consider, but the use of ‘facial grammar’ helps convey certain nuances to members of the deaf community. Howard adds that it is “quite an honour” that some consider him to be a folk hero, but it’s “unintentional”.
Signing What We’re All Thinking!
Virginia Moore, ASL interpreter with the Kentucky Commission on the Deaf and Hard-of Hearing, has also been praised for her hugely relatable interpreting of Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s public health announcements. Recently, Moore interpreted for Gov. Beshear as he explained the foolhardy behavior of some not following social distancing advice at this critical time. We’ll let you decide, but we totally agree that Moore’s facial expression while signing the words ‘coronavirus party’ perfectly conveyed the sentiment of ‘What is wrong with you people!’ echoed by so many viewers watching at home!
In a recent interview, Moore opened up about her sudden rise to fame. “It’s sort of an uncomfortable place to be, but people are stuck at home and if they need to do something to bring a little humor, well, that’s fantastic.” For that, we thank you Ms. Moore!
Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) for Sign Language
Traditionally, these heroic ASL interpreters are on-site while interpreting, safety considerations made in the wake of the COVID crisis have caused many to shift to remote interpreting. In case you missed it, we covered remote interpreting services during the current COVID-19 pandemic in a previous blog. For those locations at high risk, such as hospitals or clinics, VRI for sign language remains a preferred option. However, during the continuing government and public health expert briefings and press conferences, it is likely for interpreters to continue to appear on-site, face-to-face, as they are not only important in terms of accurately conveying essential information, but also as a calming presence to all of us.
A Big “Thank You” from PGLS!
PGLS would like to extend a sincere thank you to sign language interpreters and other linguists doing their part to provide access to vital information during these unprecedented times. You are essential to our communities and your contributions do not go unnoticed. Just like so many storms we have endured before, we will get through it together.
Contact us today to learn more about our ASL interpreters and how they can help you keep the lines of communication open. Check out our social platforms for more great stories on local and international ASL heroes!