The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and Wolf Administration officials from the Pennsylvania departments of Labor & Industry (L&I) and General Services (DGS) recognized the American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters who frequently appeared alongside Governor Tom Wolf and other commonwealth leaders to ensure that deaf and hard-of-hearing Pennsylvanians had access to life-saving information at the height of the pandemic during COVID-19 accessibility briefings. An article detailing the announcement appears on the Pennsylvania government website.

A recent national study of states’ efforts to deliver critically important public health information to deaf and hard-of-hearing individual throughout 2020 ranked Pennsylvania 10th for its effective use of ASL interpreters.

“About 1.5 million people in Pennsylvania are deaf or hard of hearing. In times of crisis, it is especially critical that we consider the needs of all people to access and understand important information about their health and safety. Because of the ASL interpreters who served alongside commonwealth leaders in 2020, there was no time lost in delivering COVID-19 information to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community in Pennsylvania,” said Melissa Hawkins, director of L&I’s Office for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing (ODHH).

Coordination of ASL services for Pennsylvania COVID-19 accessibility briefings in 2020 was a collaboration of L&I’s ODHH, the Department of General Services’ (DGS) Commonwealth Media Services (CMS) ,and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA).

“The need to bring value to the lives of all Pennsylvanians could not have been more important than when the pandemic struck, and we were thrust into a crisis the likes of which none of us could have imagined,” said DGS Acting Secretary Joe Lee. “From the outset of the pandemic in early 2020, we understood the importance of ensuring our communications to the public were accessible and in real-time.”

“Providing ASL interpretation for those who need it fills a vital gap in ensuring that everyone has access to the same life-saving information so they can make the right decisions to protect themselves and their loved ones,” said PEMA Director Randy Padfield. “The pandemic was a scary time for so many people, so providing timely and accurate information was essential to keeping Pennsylvanians safe.”

The NAD study specifically recognized Pennsylvania for its frequent use of ASL interpreters and the visibility of those accessibility services during the 2020 briefings.

“Part of the mission of the Department of Health is to assure the safe delivery of quality health care for all people in Pennsylvania,” said Acting Secretary of Health and Physician General Dr Denise Johnson. “We are grateful for the efforts of the ASL interpreters who aided in fulfilling this mission when it mattered most during the crucial need for the most up-to-date information in the COVID-19 pandemic.”

According to its report, the NAD’s Policy Institute collected and analyzed data and information from the 2020 press briefings of all states’ governors to objectively measure access via ASL interpreters for the benefit of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals during the pandemic. The NAD concluded its study by advising that governors’ offices need to always provide an interpreter for their emergency briefings and optimize their visibility through appropriate lighting, camera angle, and depth. Additionally, the NAD recommends that local television broadcasters do more to include proper framing of interpreters on screen during all broadcasts of such press briefings to fully serve all viewers, including those who are deaf and hard of hearing.

“ASL interpreters are critically important to any communication effort in a time of emergency because they are the bridge between essential information and the deaf and hard-of-hearing public who deserve to be informed in real time,” said Ryan Hyde, acting director of L&I’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR). “The skills and talents of these interpreters made it possible for the Wolf Administration to communicate directly with Pennsylvanians during a time of unprecedented uncertainty and we are eternally grateful for their contributions.”

ASL interpreters who contributed their efforts to the COVID-19 briefings in 2020 include: Cren Quigley, Cindi Brown, Jessica Bentley-Sassaman, Ashley Shenk, Kendra Bartlet, and Debi.

More information about OVR and Office for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing services is available on L&I’s website.

Source: Pennsylvania Government website