How sign language interpreters are using teamwork during the COVID-19 pandemic

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Throughout the pandemic, there are some faces that have become very familiar to us even if we don't realize it.

They are on the front lines providing critical information to a select portion of our community. And for the first time in Philadelphia history they've done it as a team.

The sign language interpreters stand alongside city, state and national leaders every day.

Because of the gravity of the coronavirus pandemic, for the first time in Philadelphia, a deaf and hearing team are being used.

"Hearing interpreters may not have all the nuances of American Sign Language because it's their second language," explained Chisty Hennessy a certified deaf interpreter.

The pair works in tandem, the hearing interpreter off-camera, the deaf interpreter on camera.

English doesn't translate word for word into sign language so there are many things the deaf interpreter needs to convey.

"American Sign Language does include things like, we call them, mouth morphemes. It also includes body language and role shifting. We can set up one piece of a message on the left side of us and another piece on the right side of us and we can refer back to them," said Hennessey.

It's a system deaf residents like Domonic Gordian say is critical because closed captioning isn't reliable and doesn't convey tone.

"They're missing a lot of information. So that means as a deaf person I'm not getting all the information," he said.

"You cannot identify the level of concerns strictly by looking at the captions on the screen. It's just words. But the sign language interpreter, the team of sign language interpreters is able to convey the severity of the emergency through their expression," added Neil McDevitt, Exec. Dir. for the Deaf Hearing Communication Center.

Another question we asked is why when everyone went to a remote format why Montgomery County put the signing interpreter on the large screen versus whoever was talking.

"They realized the software that they were currently using had limitations. And so they decided to keep the interpreter on the large screen," said McDevitt. "That was a very strong statement of support of the rights of deaf and hard of hearing individuals."

More information: DHCC Fact Sheet
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