[image description: A photo of HSDC staff member Brady signing in front of a black screen. Brady is a light-skinned, masculine-presenting person with brown hair and a goatee. They are in room with beige walls, standing in front of a desk with an open laptop and ring lighting. In the top right corner it says Translating Coronavirus News to ASL.]

How does emergency information written in English get translated to American Sign Language? It’s a technical, time-consuming process that requires deep knowledge of two very different languages and cultures.

American Sign Language (ASL) is only one of the many languages used by the diverse mix of communities in Washington State. It’s estimated that 1 in 5 people in Washington live in a household where English isn’t the only language.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) has been releasing important health and safety information to the public. In order to make sure that information reaches people whose primary language isn’t English, DOH works with community organizations around the state, including HSDC’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services program.

HSDC partners with DOH to create informational videos in ASL for the Deaf and hard of hearing community. To assist with this work, we enlisted two team members from HSDC Interpreting Services: Gina Gallaway and Brady Painter. In addition to being Director of Interpreting Services, Gina is a certified interpreter. Brady is a Qualified Deaf Interpreter.

Gina and Brady learn as much as they can about each video topic to ensure their message is accurate. Once they’ve developed a written script, Gina starts translating the English to ASL, and Brady makes sure that the translation matches the vernacular of natural Deaf signers.

Translating COVID-19 information to ASL requires not only interpreting individual words, but entire concepts. ASL is a completely separate language from English, and there are often no direct translations for unique technical terms. Explaining the information in a clear manner requires lots of specialized knowledge, skill, and creativity from Brady and Gina. Watch the video to see how Brady describes the shape of the COVID-19 virus!

Brady films himself signing the information, transforming English words into a visual document for Deaf ASL users. His signing is straightforward and concise, because he knows that his words will be passed on by the people watching. The Deaf Community is a tight-knit group. When one community member watches our videos, there is a good chance they will share the message by signing it directly to their Deaf friends and family members, distributing safety information to even more people.

Accessible information is critical to ensuring that we are all informed and safe. Projects like this may seem simple on the surface, but they take a considerable amount of work behind the scenes.

Unfortunately, limited access to important information is a communication barrier that existed for many years before the pandemic. That’s why HSDC offers our advocacy and information services free to any Deaf, hard of hearing, or late-deafened person in the 13 counties we serve.

Stopping the spread of the coronavirus will take a community effort. We can keep each other safe and healthy by ensuring that all of our fellow community members have the information they need.

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