We’re really providing something special to the Deaf community.”

That’s how American Sign Language interpreter Joshua Seal describes Pine Tree Society’s interpretating services for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Covid-19 briefings.

It’s easy to understand how Joshua’s role as an interpreter fills a critical need by allowing people who cannot hear the opportunity to access the information being communicated during the briefings. What’s not so easy to see — and what makes his ASL interpretating different — is that Joshua is Deaf and ASL is his native language.

“I’m a heritage user of ASL,” he said. “It’s something that’s intrinsic to me.”

To interpret the Maine CDC briefings, Joshua relies on his hearing teammate to listen to what Dr. Nirav Shah says, and then relay that, in sign language, to him. Joshua then signs the information for the viewers, providing critical information so they can make informed decisions in their lives.

“As a Deaf individual, I have a polished and natural way of sharing the briefings,” he said. “Simply put, I take the ASL that the

hearing interpreter provides me and make it easier for the Deaf community to understand.”

ASL is not just finger spelling. New signs are frequently created as needs arise; quickly allowing Deaf people access to information they need in an emergency like the pandemic.

“I first learned of the sign for Covid-19 on February 10, 2020,” said Maura Nolin, Director of Interpreting Services at Pine Tree Society. “A Deaf gentleman travelling back from a conference in Japan did a vlog while he was at the airport sharing that there was a new virus. He showed how it was signed and explained why. The sign he shared quickly went worldwide.”

Pine Tree Society is Maine’s only not-for-profit sign language interpreting agency and is committed to meeting the needs of Deaf people statewide.

“We have always seen technology as playing an important role in meeting the needs of people in rural parts of our state,” said Noel Sullivan, President and CEO of Pine Tree Society. “When Covid-19 hit, we were quickly able to apply our knowledge and capacity to provide the highest quality interpreting services available.”

Skip to content