Lydia L. Callis
Sign Language Interpreter, Community Educator, Advocate
Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed the citizens of New York to discuss the city's first confirmed case of Ebola. During the press conference the mayor's ASL interpreter, Jonathan Lamberton, gained a bit of attention on the Internet. Most of the commentary centered around Lamberton's expressiveness, which is actually just part of sign language, but missed the most compelling aspect of this particular interpreter: he is Deaf.
For hearing people who do not have any experience with Deaf culture, it might be hard to understand how Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDI) are used, and why they are necessary. In this instance, the CDI was working as a team with a hearing interpreter who sat in the audience. The hearing interpreter was signing the message to Lamberton, who was interpreting it on camera. But why have two interpreters?
New York City is truly a melting pot with people of all ethnic backgrounds, education levels, and ability. In times when peoples' health or lives might be in danger, communication becomes absolutely critical. There is no room for miscommunication when state officials are addressing the public safety.
Utilizing an interpreter whose native language is ASL can be a good match when your audience is unknown. While a high quality hearing interpreter may be able to do a great job, a CDI has the ability to reach ASL users on every level. This ensures that the message is conveyed to a broad audience.
Deaf people who use sign language to communicate may read and write English quite well; or they may not know English at all. Many deaf people have excellent ASL skills, while others only know informal sign languages called "home signs." Additionally, in a large city like New York there is a whole audience of foreign born deaf people for whom ASL is a second language.