Omaha sign language interpreter conveys COVID-19 info to deaf community

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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) -- They’ve become familiar faces in recent weeks standing beside state leaders and health experts.

Pamela Duncan's journey to being a sign language interpreter started at home before earning her credentials at UNO.

Sign language interpreters have been called to duty -- communicating life-saving information during our live coverage for the hearing impaired.

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It’s a profession that’s even on the rise.

“Sometimes a complete thought is not there, leaving an ASL user to kind of wonder what the missing piece was.”

Pamela Duncan's journey to being a sign language interpreter started at home before earning her credentials at UNO.

Her inspiration may surprise you.

“My parents are both deaf. My brother is deaf. And so that’s where I acquired the language, but knowing sign language doesn’t automatically give you the credibility to be an actual interpreter.”

She learned the American sign language growing up.

Spoken English wasn’t her strongsuit until she attended preschool.

“Knowing sign language is a beautiful thing it's like knowing any other language.”

Duncan’s profession took a dramatic hit because of COVID-19 -- with schools and businesses closed.

Her typical workweek covers between 40 and 50 hours with traveling between Nebraska and Iowa -- two states where she’s certified.

“And I'm down to about 10 hours.”

Some of the consistent work Pamela and other ASL interpreters have had lately are on display during our coverage of live news conferences.

She says it can be taxing on the mind when relaying information for up to an hour at a time.

“You're hearing a message, and then you are translating it and sending it out into a different language, and that utilizes both sides of your brain. And we can pretty much work for about an hour.”

As Pamela hopes to get back to working her usual number of hours, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an interpreter’s job outlook through 2028 is expected to increase by 19 percent -- much faster than average.

“Although our work is fascinating and it’s sometimes neat to look at, it’s very vital information.”

At UNO, she also studied several things that an effective interpreter needs.

“There's ethics involved, we have a code of professional conduct. There's deaf culture that we need to be aware of and we need to be able to mediate that.”

“Anybody who thinks that sign language is neat, or cool I suggest for you to learn sign language. You're learning a beautiful language.”

As we continue to bring you live briefings regarding the coronavirus, you can expect to see Pamela and other certified sign language interpreters across Nebraska and Iowa.