Keynote speaker reflects on her role as an ASL interpreter for DeWine’s COVID-19 briefings

Marla Berkowitz has been hired as an American Sign Language interpreter for Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s coronavirus briefings. Berkowitz, a lecturer in Ohio State’s ASL program, is the only ASL Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) in Ohio State. Credit: Marla Berkowitz

Many have helped spread information about the COVID-19 pandemic around the world, many of which have never heard of it on TV, including Marla Berkowitz who served as American Sign Language interpreter for briefings on Governor Mike DeWine’s coronavirus.

Berkowitz, a lecturer in Ohio State’s ASL program, is the only ASL-certified deaf interpreter in Ohio and performed for DeWine for two years, helping to make vital information accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing community. As Berkowitz signed off, hitting the right tone through facial expressions, body language and hand movements, she said in an email that it was important to ensure the state reached out to every Ohioan.

“When we talk about the pandemic, we are all deeply concerned about the alarming spread and severity of health issues such as COVID,” Berkowitz said. “How do people know what to do to protect themselves? Who will take responsibility for using ASL to ensure that a marginalized group like monolingual deaf people have information about their health that is 100% accessible to them? »

Berkowitz said the social injustice and inequality she saw, as well as her own experiences as a Deaf person, fueled her passion for helping others within the Deaf community. In addition to her work with the Ohio State ASL program and with DeWine, Berkowitz was active in the Deaf Jewish community, founding the Manhattan Young Adult Jewish Deaf and New York’s Jewish Deaf Resource Center.

Berkowitz said her goal of helping others understand the world around them led her to become an interpreter and educator at Ohio State.

“I’ve always been able to clarify, help when it comes to facilitating communication so everyone walks away feeling understood and understanding the circumstances around them,” Berkowitz said. “So I guess that’s what I’m doing today. Even during ASL program staff meetings when everyone is using ASL to communicate, I still find myself useful as a clarifier.

There are approximately 303,000 people who are deaf or hard of hearing in Ohio, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

With DeWine’s coronavirus briefings, Berkowitz became the first deaf person in Ohio history to interpret critical information directly to the deaf community, and she said she was honored to have been a trailblazer. in this regard.

“Being a trailblazer is an honor I would never take for granted because it is a sacred job that I take very seriously every time I go out and do my job to ensure deaf and hard of hearing people from all walks of life and their hearing counterparts have effective communication,” Berkowitz said.

Berkowitz said her team of ASL interpreters for coronavirus briefings consisted of two others: Lena Smith of Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities worked as a team coordinator who gathers information and details, processes questions from reporters as well as Christy Horne who provided Berkowitz with the English to ASL information.

Kim Jump, Head of Communications for Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities, said in an email that DeWine’s COVID-19 Briefing Interpretation Team has helped raise awareness of the importance and value of inclusion, especially of people within the deaf or hard of hearing community .

“The team highlighted the complexity of ASL and the need to ensure highly trained interpreters are used, especially in situations like the pandemic when clear communication with the Deaf community is vital,” said declared Jump.

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