COLUMBUS, Ohio — With Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s team getting national attention for setting the standard for combating COVID-19, Marla Berkowitz has found herself in the spotlight.
And now she's spreading her own message for deaf people like herself.
DeWine’s sign language interpreter has developed her own fan base and even has a bobblehead in the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame.
When WCPO 9 News Reporter Courtney Francisco spoke to Berkowitz before the governor’s press conference Thursday, an interpreter interceded.
“I’m always looking forward to getting home to relax, to be able to cook. My best meals are with my partner,” signed Berkowitz, a professor at Ohio State University.
Her family lives across the U.S.
“When I was a little girl, I went to a deaf school. Many of my classmates were deaf, but the teachers at the school, most of them weren’t. They weren’t really skilled and proficient with how to communicate or teach deaf students back in those days,” Berkowitz signed.
“I found that I missed a lot of information along the way.”
She said that’s typical in the deaf community.
“That’s our lives everyday as a deaf person. We become used to it. We become used to missing information,” signed Berkowitz. “And our culture, we value sharing that information that we do know with each other. We are a close-knit, strong community, and we depend on each other for support.”
That’s why Berkowitz became an interpreter. When this pandemic hit, she was watching the news, unable to understand the closed captioning because she says it was inaccurate.
“I was trying to catch as much information as I could through the sketchy closed captioning and through the newspaper, you know? Because this is how I survive,” signed Berkowitz.
Coincidentally, she signed, the governor’s office called and asked her to help.
Her team, Lena Smith and Christy Horne, can hear. They feed Berkowitz information during the press briefings and help her sign.
They say it’s important for hearing people to know some basic signs like, “Do you need help?”
“My boyfriend is deaf,” said Smith, “so the more people that know sign language, the more access the community has.”
Horne is proud of the curiosity the team is sparking in the hearing community.
“I think it’s about time. The deaf community has been here just as long as any other group, and they’ve always been denied access,” said Horne.
People are starting to recognize them in the grocery store. Some even sign “Thank you!”
At Cincinnati State, Professor Dawn Caudill says more people are trying to learn sign language.
“I know that we have lots of room for improvement,” said Caudill. “But I do see many people in our community that are really wanting to learn sign language.”
Perhaps equal access can be one good thing that can come from this pandemic.
We really need to focus on that equity for all people,” signed Berkowitz. “It’s time now to move forward and improve.”
Cincinnati State is offering free sign language courses online this summer. You can sign up by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.