American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters play an important and crucial role in the lives of deaf and hard of hearing individuals. And their status has become even more essential in the wake of our current global health crisis.
In this post, we look at the role ASL interpreters are playing in the pandemic as well as what steps can be taken to improve their ability to facilitate communication with deaf and hard of hearing individuals.
The Role of ASL Interpreting During COVID-19
ASL Interpreting During News Briefings
One of the fundamental ways in which ASL interpreters are assisting deaf and hard of hearing individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic is by providing interpreting during news briefings.
In fact, a September 2020 ruling made the presence of an ASL interpreter mandatory at all White House public briefings about the virus. Prior to this ruling, deaf and hard of hearing individuals had to rely on closed captioning and transcripts, which are often rife with errors that can cause confusion — if they are available at all.
Now, ASL interpreters are able to keep deaf and hard of hearing individuals abreast of the latest virus developments from how to properly protect yourself from infection to what to do if you have tested positive.
The presence of ASL interpreters on live TV has had the added benefit of bringing awareness to the greater population. In many instances, hearing individuals are seeing ASL interpreters in action for the first time.
Not only have these news briefings put a spotlight on the role ASL interpreters play in the lives of the more than one million Americans affected by hearing loss, but they also help normalize having an interpreter on camera.
ASL Interpreting in Medical Settings
ASL interpreters also serve a key role during medical appointments.
It is often said that good communication between healthcare providers and their patients is the cornerstone of good healthcare. But how can good communication occur where doctors have limited time to spend with their patients? Or when patients find it difficult to comprehend the medical jargon that is so easily, and often so quickly, spoken by medical staff? Then add to this a patient who is deaf or hard of hearing.
That’s where medical ASL interpreters come in. ASL interpreters work with medical professionals to effectively communicate diagnosis and treatment information. At the same time, they are able to convey to the doctor any questions or concerns the patient may have.
When patients are able to better communicate with their care providers, they feel more at ease, which results in more trust. Once a patient feels more secure, they tend to open up and provide additional information about themselves and their ailment. This, in turn, can lead to a better diagnosis, an improved healthcare experience, and a better outcome for the patient.
Without the trust fostered by good communication made possible for deaf and hard of hearing individuals through the use of trained medical ASL interpreters, good healthcare is only a concept found in a textbook.
How ASL Interpreters are Adapting to the Pandemic
Although American Sign Language utilizes hand gestures, facial expressions and movements around the mouth — such as grimacing, puffing of cheeks, and pursing of lips — are just as important in conveying meaning, especially when it comes to modifying certain verbs and nouns.
Additionally, many deaf and hard of hearing individuals who communicate via American Sign Language also rely on lip-reading as a way to receive information from interpreters.
Accordingly, masks greatly obstruct clear communication between ASL interpreters and deaf and hard of hearing individuals.
As a workaround to this problem, many interpreters have taken to wearing face masks with a clear window and/or plastic face shields.
This solution works well for interpreters who must be present in the room, such as those who work during the White House news briefings. However, there is another solution that offers even clearer (and safer) communication between hearing and hard of hearing individuals: video remote interpreting (VRI).
The Benefits of Video Remote Interpreting for ASL
American Sign Language interpreting has suffered in the past from a lack of good alternatives to on-site interpreting. However, advancements in video remote interpreting have alleviated many of these challenges by providing a fast and safe alternative to on-site interpreting.
Rather than needing to secure expensive, specialized equipment, VRI platforms can easily be accessed through any standard web browser on a laptop, desktop, smart phone, tablet, or other mobile device. As long as you have a camera, a microphone, and internet access, you can connect to a professional interpreter in minutes.
In the age of COVID-19, VRI has become even more applicable for deaf and hard of hearing individuals. With the use of VRI platforms, ASL interpreters are able to assist deaf and hard of hearing individuals participating in virtual meetings, attending remote college lectures, and conversing with telehealth providers, all from the safety of their own homes and offices.
Instead of risking possible exposure to the COVID-19 virus, VRI keeps all parties involved at a healthy distance while still maintaining accurate channels of communication.
Drawbacks of VRI Interpreting for ASL
Despite its many advantages, there are a few limitations when it comes to VRI for ASL interpreting.
Some ASL users feel that an in-person interpreter allows for better processing of physical and/or facial cues. The reason for this is because VRI is two-dimensional, whereas ASL is a three-dimensional language.
Others, especially those in the medical field, worry that the patient is unable to fully watch the interpreter on-screen during medical exams. This inability to properly focus on what the ASL interpreter is signing could potentially lead to compromised communication.
For these reasons, VRI is often looked to only in situations where an in-person interpreter is not available or — as is the case in our current COVID-19 affected world — when there are health or safety concerns.
How LLS Can Help
Whether you’re an individual who communicates using sign language or are responsible for providing an ASL interpreter for an upcoming event or appointment, LLS can help. Our VRI platform offers a secure, easy, on-demand way to communicate in a whole new — and more effective— way.
Contact LLS today to learn more about how we can assist you.