Just a few short weekends ago was the wedding of Katie Howard and Phil Dudley, two ACE guides. Another guide, Kelly Huff, served as a deaf interpreter for Katie’s Aunt Marcia. In her own words, Kelly explains how she got into this field. As part of the wedding party, I was fascinated how Kelly could translate not only the Priest’s words but the emotion behind them.
Here’s what Kelly had to say:
Most people who work in deaf education do so because they had friends or family who are deaf. I can’t say that’s true for me, or that there was any one thing that made me realize this is what I wanted to do. At the age of 5 I decided that Linda Bove teaching sign language was the best part of Sesame Street. Later, my mom began nursing school and studied sign language to better help some of her patients, and I helped her practice. Even later, when I was looking for electives at Ohio University, mom reminded me of how much I liked sign when I was younger. It was here that I started to learn about deaf culture and understand the language.
I didn’t decide to make it a career path yet, but did have an experience that stuck with me and probably influenced that later decision.
I remember walking to art class down a busy hallway, where a little boy was fidgeting and hiding behind his mom, but looking at everyone as they passed by. Not many people noticed him, but when I looked closer, I thought I saw his fidgeting hands were actually signing at rapid speed h-i, h-i, h-i, h-i… so I signed back “h-i.”
His reaction made it apparent that he was definitely signing to everyone who walked by, just to see who would sign back. I had enough time to stop and tell him my name, find out his name was Nathan, and he was 3 years old. The image of a 3-year-old’s face lighting up just because you said “hi” sticks with you. So, with that, and the information I had learned in deaf culture and sign language classes, when it was time to finish my degree, I decided on Deaf Education.
I taught deaf and hard of hearing kids in southern Ohio for 5 years, and this past year have moved to West Virginia University to finish my doctorate so I will be qualified to prepare other teachers of the deaf. It’s dangerous to get me started talking about my job – I am so totally in love with it, I can ramble on and on. But one of the side benefits is that the skill of sign language transfers to different applications. For one, my friends and I never bother yelling over top of loud environments, we just sign. We can have conversations from across long distances. We’ve met some interesting people, who are curious and unafraid to introduce themselves and ask questions. And sign language karaoke is way less painful than the vocal variety.
Though interpreting is a very different skill than conversational signing, I have been able to assist deaf people in frustrating situations at the airport, post office, pharmacy, etc. Working as a river guide at ACE Adventure Resort, I’ve had a couple of opportunities to interpret for guests during their activities. Just last week I was on a river trip with an amazing family whose deaf sons didn’t use sign language, but I felt like my background helped me to communicate more effectively (and we had the “best day ever!” – our repeated motto for the day).
When I was training to be a raft guide at ACE, I met Katie Howard, who was already a guide. As we got to know each other, Katie let me know that she had an aunt who was deaf, and we talked about my job and her experiences. Every weekend when I would drive in for training, Katie would ask me to tell her a story about my students from that week. That same spring, Katie met Phil Dudley. And when Phil proposed to Katie last year, they asked me to interpret the wedding.
But again, not being a certified interpreter, I admit I was nervous. But I was so honored, I couldn’t say “no.” So, I sought expert advice and practiced before the ceremony. I have to say, the experience was a great one for me. I met Katie’s aunt the night before, who made me feel very comfortable. As the nerves wore away in the beginning of the ceremony, I thought less about the technical accuracy of the signs and more about conveying the emotion and sentiment of the message. It was a beautiful ceremony full of lovely people. Phil and Katie are amazing people – the fact that they thought to facilitate communication for one member of their family is only one example. I feel fortunate to know them and to have met their families and been a part of such a beautiful day.