MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — They’ve become some of the most visible people in Minnesota’s fight against COVID-19.

American Sign Language interpreters have been delivering real-time information from the front lines.

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The interpreters you see at the daily press conferences are Deaf themselves. They are being praised for their passionate work on Twitter and beyond.

Real-time information has never been so important, and Nic Zapko is delivering it daily. She communicated in ASL with WCCO via hearing interpreter Patty McCutcheon.

“We are working with Keystone Interpreting to really make this accessible for everyone, and I feel incredibly honored to be delivering the message,” Zapko said.

McCutcheon is also the CEO and co-owner of Keystone Interpreting Solutions.

“Most people don’t think Deaf people have the ability to do anything, they don’t have the ability because they can’t hear,” Zapko said.

But she and her fellow interpreter JP Beldon, who are both Deaf, are proving that theory wrong daily. They interpret in tandem with hearing interpreters like McCutcheon, who sits in the front row in press conferences and signs to Zapko, who then interprets the message further into ASL to the world.

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There is a growing movement in the field to have Deaf interpreters in the forefront, with hearing interpreters playing a secondary role.

“People all over the country are talking about access and the hard work of these interpreters,” McCutcheon said.

It’s a newer concept for the state of Minnesota, and Zapko believes it’s an immeasurable one.

“For example, my kids are hearing, my wife is hearing. We can all watch together, I don’t have to wait for them to tell me what’s going on,” Zapko said.

Because in a time where information is vital, interpretation is everything.

“The Deaf community in Minnesota is incredibly thrilled, and they are finally able to feel included and feel a part of the state and say we are here, we aren’t separate,” Zapko said.

The Minnesota Commission of the Deaf, Deafblind and Hard of Hearing (MNCDHH) advocated to make the real-time interpreting of the governor’s meetings happen.

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Minnesota is now known as a leader in providing more access to the Deaf community.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield