Sign language interpreters play pivotal role in coronavirus response

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - With news conferences from elected officials becoming more and more prevalent due to the coronavirus, so is the presence of sign language interpreters.


That’s the case for Byron Jensen, a deaf sign language interpreter in Anchorage.

"It was completely unexpected," Jensen explained, with an interpreter by his side. "I had some availability to step in, and I've been a part of it ever since."

Since Jensen is deaf, he said it helps for him to share small details that can sometimes be lost on other interpreters.

“There's a lot of things within facial expressions or body language that are a key part of the American Sign Language message,” Jensen signed. “As a deaf interpreter, I'm able to bring those in a way other interpreters might not be able to.”

During news conferences, the information will be conveyed to Jensen by another person facing him who is also listening to the speaker.

Throughout the briefings, Jensen shares interpreting duties to help reduce the chance of making mistakes.

“You need to give your brain an opportunity to rest," he said, "to make sure the information you are giving out is accurate throughout the entire message."

Despite working full time at East High School as a teacher’s assistant, he makes it work, and while interpreting is not his full-time job, he knows the importance of what he's doing.

"Working for both East and interpreting simultaneously is almost like two full-time jobs,” said Jensen, who works with students throughout the day and interprets during his lunch break or after hours. "It's a huge responsibility."

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