White House Hires Deaf ASL Interpreter
The White House administration recognized the need for an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter to better serve the deaf and hard of hearing population, and that recognition was put into action. A full-time Certified Deaf Interpreter was hired, Elsie Stecker, along with a hearing interpreter, Lindsey Snyder.
During White House events, Lindsey Snyder, who is hearing, is off camera. She listens to the speaker and transliterates the message to Stecker who is Deaf and a native ASL user. Elsie Stecker then interprets the message into ASL in front of the camera for the deaf and hard of hearing audience. The tandem team of deaf and hearing interpreters will now be interpreting into ASL the communications and press conferences from the White House administration.
The White House administration has been providing an ASL interpreter for news conferences and briefings since early 2021, and was the first White House to provide interpretation services for a presidential speech to Congress. The hiring of a full-time Certified Deaf Interpreter was the next major step in providing real-time political coverage for deaf and hard of hearing individuals.
Nuances of ASL
American Sign Language (ASL) is not the same as the English language. ASL is a complete language with its own sentence structure, syntax and nuances. Most hearing ASL interpreters are not native ASL users (since they learned ASL as a second language) and thus often have a “hearing accent” when signing. By utilizing a deaf ASL interpreter, the message conveyed to the deaf and hard of hearing audiences can be relayed in its most efficient, clear, and beautiful form. ASL also delivers a feeling of tone and mood by using facial expressions and body language, and that tone does not always translate effectively with the use of printed captions.
Why the Need for Both a Hearing and a Deaf Interpreter?
In a CBS Mornings interview, Elsie Stecker relayed that deaf people who use ASL can watch and identify that a deaf person is signing on the screen. Most hearing interpreters learned ASL after learning English and have an accent when signing. Deaf people who grew up using ASL don’t have that same kind of accent. Stecker also explained that Deaf interpreters can determine what a deaf audience would need regarding appropriate terminology, and when to expand further on some descriptions.
With Lindsey Snyder listening to interpret from English to ASL directly to Elsie Stecker, and Elsie interpreting Lindsey’s message via ASL to the camera, the deaf and hard of hearing audiences are receiving the tone and structure needed to get an effectively communicated report.
Communicating Effective Messages … Including a Wider Audience
Former White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki met with the new interpreting duo, and they had the chance to relay to Jen that she perhaps talks and reads aloud faster than anyone they know. Psaki appeared to be smiling (through her mask) and took the comments to heart, saying she would work on that. Communicating tips in the White House on how to keep ASL interpretation at its highest level will be a helpful part of the job.
Both Elsie and Lindsey spend many hours each day reviewing topics that may appear on the White House schedule. They go over news reports so they are prepared for one of their favorite parts of day — the White House press briefing — at which time they go into action. With Lindsey listening and signing to Elsie, and Elsie signing to the camera, they are an effective team to deliver the real-time message to deaf and hard of hearing watchers. Elsie finds it amusing to interpret questions and answers between reporters and White House staff, often needing to sign the same answer over and over again to reporters’ similar questions, and thinking to herself, “Wasn’t that question already answered?!” Such is the nature of politics and press briefings.
Lindsey Snyder remarked, “This is the ultimate kind of team. We have our own skill set that manages to come together to put out the most effective message to bring in a community that has been marginalized for so long.”
Elsie Stecker commented, “I’m not here for myself to be in this position. I’m here for the Deaf community to have access to this message.”
As interviewed by NPR, writer and longtime deaf activist Jenna Beacom suggested that “…even with more to be done, it is a milestone in the fight for greater recognition and access.”
Elsie Stecker’s ASL interpretation may be viewed on the White House live stream at whitehouse.gov. As of this writing, C-SPAN is not showing ASL interpreters. Hopefully, major networks and more televised channels overall will begin to air more coverage that includes ASL interpreters.
See It Signed - Example Sentence
This signed sentence illustrates the sign for the word “interpreter.”
ASL Gloss: NEW INTERPRETER MY OFFICE RECENTLY HIRE.
English Example: My office just hired a new interpreter.
- CBS Mornings. (2022, March 29). White House ASL interpreters bring the President’s message to a larger audience. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwdHJ8mpihw
- CBS News. (2022, March 29). White House Hires Full-Time ASL Interpreters for First Time: “I’m here for the Deaf community.” Retrieved April 12, 2022, from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/white-house-hires-asl-sign-interpreters-deaf-community/
- Cohen. L. (2021, January 26). White House Briefings Will Now Include an American Sign Language Interpreter. CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/white-house-briefings-will-now-include-an-american-sign-language-interpreter/
- Gittleson, B. (2021, April 23). In 1st, White House to Provide American Sign Language Interpretation for Biden Address to Congress. ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/1st-white-house-provide-american-sign-language-interpretation/story?id=77266289
- NPR. (2022, April 4). The White House Has Hired its First Full-Time ASL Interpreters. Retrieved April 13, 2022, from https://www.npr.org/2022/04/04/1090746199/the-white-house-has-hired-its-first-full-time-asl-interpreters
- WhiteHouse.gov. (2022, April 25). Image from Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki with Elsie Stecker signing. https://www.whitehouse.gov/live/