Sign language interpreters play crucial role during pandemic


HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Many Pennsylvanians rely on sign language interpreters to deliver vital information. For new terms like COVID-19, interpreters will first spell out the word then use the sign that was developed by the deaf community.

“When you have something new and COVID-19 is a really good example, it develops in the communities so when there’s a situation like coronavirus and COVID-19, the community will make up its own sign,” said Melissa Hawkins, Director for the Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

There are only seven certified deaf interpreters in the state, which means they are deaf or hard of hearing. Two of them appear on-screen daily with Gov. Wolf and state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine. Since the interpreters are deaf or hard of hearing, they are given information from a hearing interpreter.

“Dr. Levine will says something and the hearing interpreter will translate it for the certified deaf interpreter and they break it down to absolutely clear communication,” Hawkins said.

Interpreters don’t wear a mask on screen because the deaf community relies on facial expressions for communication.

“Sign language is a very visual language and a lot of what we’re presenting to you is visual with facial expressions,” Hawkins said. “The top half of your face means one thing, the bottom means another.”

Hawkins says interpreters are essential for the 1.1 million Pennsylvanians who are deaf or hard of hearing. The department has received a lot of positive feedback from the community.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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