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American Sign Language and the COVID-19 times

Sign language is a matter of sustenance for the deaf. With important information being disseminated during the COVID-19 times, they find it extremely difficult to understand the instructions. This period of confusion has become all the more challenging for them. Wearing masks that cover the entire lower portions of their faces become a further difficulty as a lot of distinctions between words in the American Sign Language is made using lip movements. Lori Whynot, director of Northeastern University’s American Sign Language Program talks about the situation.


“It’s like listening to a muffled message.”, she says. Without the pursing of lips or puffing of cheeks, common ways of expression that supports variations of nouns and verbs in the sign language, the message becomes unclear to the deaf audience. American Sign Language is an expressive language that provides both emotional and linguistic information. It has both formal and conversational usage. Whynot plays an integral role in translating the governor’s messages to the deaf public.


The process is a two-person team activity. A hearing person stands within the audience and translates what is being said to another person into sign language. The second person now translates this to colloquial sign language for the audience. Working in a pair gives the interpreters more scope for making the message clear and accessible to the audience. Whynot works with Dubler who has been deaf since his birth. Dubler stands at a distance of six-feet from the governor’s podium making the message reach out to them.


Northeastern University’s bachelor degree program which trains students to become American Sign Language interpreters is one amongst the few 15 programs on this by Commission on Collegiate Interpreter Education. The university also has the American Sign Language Program which has the Centre for Atypical Language Interpretation.


N Malavika Mohan