Star interpreter helps pass along vital COVID-19 information to every Ohioan


Many people watching Gov. DeWine's daily coronavirus briefings aren't even looking at him -- they're watching Marla Berkowitz

(WKBN) – Every thing you learn about COVID-19 is important. Most of us hear what the governors or president are telling us, but some of us get the information through sign language.

Many people watching Ohio’s daily coronavirus briefing don’t even look at the governor. They’re focused on Marla Berkowitz, who’s providing the sign language interpretation they need.

“Every deaf person in Ohio that uses American Sign Language, that’s the only way that they’re getting the message from the governor,” said Dr. Sheryl Figliano, an audiologist.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed in 1990 and requires the governors’ briefings in Ohio, Pennsylvania and across America be signed by a licensed interpreter or have closed captioning to help the hearing impaired.

Sign language is not a word-for-word translation of the English language.

“A lot of it is based on facial expressions,” Figliano said. “It’s processed visually versus auditorially.”

The way Berkowitz does it has caught many people’s attention. She gets involved, always seems bright and cheery, and has been a key figure in Ohio’s briefings — more important to the deaf community than DeWine or Dr. Amy Acton.

“She is amazing,” Figliano said. “She is a hero to me and, again, kudos to the governor for picking her because she is top-notch.”

The signing is the most important part of the job. The signer is making sure every Ohioan has vital information.

Someone who is deaf prefers an expert interpreter over reading closed captioning.

“Sign language is a natural language like any other language and I’m so happy that he recognizes the need for accessibility,” Figliano said.

Berkowitz herself is deaf. Someone signs to her and she passes along the interpretation.

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