Interpreters Take off-center Stage During Pandemic
The accurate and unfiltered flow of information was a critical component in the nation’s battle to flatten the curve in the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
As elected officials and medical professionals held near-daily news conferences to convey the latest updates to television viewers, considerable attention was also awarded to the people standing toward the side of the screen, passionately working to bring the vital health and safety details to the deaf community.
“The pandemic has shone a new light on the field of interpreting,” said Lindy Browne, faculty chair of the sign language interpreter program at Lansing Community College. “It has helped to show how vital it is to provide equal communication access to our deaf and hard-of-hearing communities, but — most importantly — in the language mode that is most easily accessible to those populations. The fact that interpreters are being seen on TV is helping to show hearing people that this is an actual profession. It has brought more interest to the interpreting programs.”
Browne became a sign language interpreter a quarter-century ago. She spent two years teaching at Purdue University and has taught at LCC for the past five years. Some students enter the program to learn a new skill to broaden future career opportunities, but Browne said most seek out the program to become certified interpreters.
“The language itself is a blast,” she said. “I enjoy teaching up-and-coming interpreters and seeing our students go from stumbling over their hands to the ability to move from one language to the other with increasing skills.”
Lansing resident Lorraine Auvenshine learned sign language four decades ago to communicate with her parents.
“My mother was deaf, and my father was hard of hearing, so I have used sign language all of my life to communicate with my parents,” she said. “I realized at a young age that communication for deaf people was difficult, and I wanted to do something to facilitate interactions with the hearing world. So here I am, 40 years later.”
Now a certified interpreter, Auvenshine primarily uses her skills for clients in the medical field.
“Interpreting in the medical field has its challenges,” she said. “Sometimes I am faced with having to interpret serious health issues and concerns, and it’s difficult to always remain neutral and to control one’s emotions. … It is really a privilege to be trusted to interpret for people when they have to share sometimes very private and personal information. I take this very seriously and follow the interpreter code of conduct. I also maintain my certification with the national Registry for Interpreters of the Deaf.”
Since 2007, Lansing-based 7C Lingo has provided interpretation, translation, cultural intelligence training and similar services to medical facilities, universities, courts, law offices, local governments, the private sector and other clients.
“We are proud to say that our base clientele is here at home in the 517 area,” said Hatim Shetiah, communications care director at 7C Lingo. “However, we have clientele throughout the entire state and are able to provide select services on a national and international scale.”
The COVID-19 pandemic altered the lives of everyone around the world seemingly overnight, and Shetiah noted American Sign Language received a major spotlight due to news conferences and media outlets using interpreters to convey crucial communiques and messages.
“I truly believe that the everyday person at home who’s watching the news has a new perspective on ASL interpreters and the community as a whole,” he said. “It is now up to us, the American people, to continue moving forward in making sure that the limited-English-proficient, deaf and hard-of-hearing communities have the tools for clear communication available for everyday inclusivity and not just during a global pandemic.”
The effort pays off on a societal as well as a personal level, he added.
“We are given the opportunity every day to have an impact on the lives of so many people through communication,” Shetiah said. “What we do allows us to give back to our 517 community and others, most notably through employment. The diversity surrounding us is incredible and allows us to bring in and use local talent for almost all our assignments. Waking up every morning knowing you are going to positively impact someone’s life is the best motivator someone can have.”