Amid the barrage of coronavirus briefings by local officials across the U.S., sign language interpreters are being recognized for their vital work – and constant presence – as states and cities try to keep their residents informed.
Meet some of the unsung – but not unnoticed – interpreters creating a buzz in five states:
Dr. Daniel Burch – Louisiana
Dr. Daniel Burch, vice president of Sign Language Services International, has been signing alongside Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards and Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston Broome.
Burch explained to WVLA that COVID-19 comes with unique challenges – like how to sign “coronavirus.” “Flatten the curve,” “PPE” and “social distancing” are also new additions to the lexicon.
Watch Dr. Burch show the sign for coronavirus:
Eddie Schmeckenbecher – Arkansas
Schmeckenbecher has made a splash on social media with the pop of color he brings to Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s daily COVID-19 press conferences.
“They want to see what tie I’m wearing, but when they see it they go ‘oh cool tie’ and then they just watch what I’m signing,” Schmeckenbecher told Newsfeed Now.
Scheckenbecher said he’s helped the deaf and hearing impaired for more than 40 years, getting his start translating for a church preacher.
“For me to stand here is a very humbling experience,” Schmeckenbecher said.
Jennifer Casto and Julie Turley – West Virginia
Casto and Turley have become a consistent presence in every COVID-19 update from West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice.
“It’s a lot of work, more mentally than physically, just listening to what everybody is saying, and trying to convey that message out,” Casto told WOWK.
She said she’s proud of West Virginia for providing sign language interpreting since the first day: “I’m glad we set a trend for that.”
For Julie Turley, the opportunity comes with special meaning.
“My parents are deaf, so I’ve been signing my entire life. I was signing before I was talking. So it’s just a part of me,” Turley says.
Michael Albert – Illinois
There are 384,000 people in Illinois who are deaf or have severe hearing loss.
For many, their focus during the state’s daily COVID-19 updates isn’t on the governor. Instead, they’re looking to the man at his side who is interpreting the avalanche of information for them.
Michael Albert has become a familiar face during the daily briefings. But it’s his hands he’d rather you focus on.
“I’ve been working very hard to provide a message that’s accurate and clear,” he told WGN. “And hopefully, I’ve done that to the best of my ability.”
Marla Berkowitz – Ohio
Berkowitz, who is now a familiar sight next to Ohio Gov. Mike Dewine, is also the only certified deaf interpreter in Ohio, according to the Carroll County Board of Developmental Disabilities.
In a post on Facebook, the board explained:
“If you watch carefully, you will see that there is someone signing to her, which she interprets and relays back in a very easy to understand and logical ASL. See her facial expressions? They are critical to ASL, they convey context, emotion, motive and reason. Her name is Marla Berkowitz and she is an inspiration.”
Rick Norris – South Dakota
Anything said during coronavirus updates at the Law Enforcement Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Rick Norris signs.
The work is personal for Norris. He grew up in a home with parents who are deaf.
“After seeing what kinds of things my parents went through, I felt compelled to be a part of this as part of my profession,” Norris told KELO.
Now, he’s making sure people like his own family are well-informed.
“It’s just an inclusive way of making sure our community understands what’s going on,” Norris said.
And during challenging times, it takes a whole community.