The man behind the signs: ASL interpreter front and center during COVID-19 crisis

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ You might not recognize the name Arkady Belozovsky, but if you’ve been watching Gov. Gina Raimondo’s daily press briefings, you’ll surely recognize his face.

Belozovsky is often the American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter for Raimondo’s now-daily briefings on the coronavirus. He’s a certified deaf interpreter, or CDI, and his role is crucial in getting important information out to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.

“Some deaf people can read the captions in English, some can’t really, or it’s not as accessible to them,” Belozovsky said during an interview with Eyewitness News this week. Fellow CDI, Rayne Depukat, acted as an interpreter. “What I’m doing is giving them access to that information as a native and heritage signer, so they can see the language and say, ‘Hey, this is the language from my childhood, this is my native language.'”

The approach to interpreting Raimondo’s live press conferences is multi-prong: Depukat, who can hear, sits at a table in front of the Raimondo’s podium and communicates to Belozovsky, who is deaf, the information about what Raimondo is saying.

They call it “feeding,” and it works best this way, Belozovsky said, because he is a native speaker of ASL and Depukat is not.

“For deaf viewers, after about 20 minutes of watching an interpreter interpreting as a second language user, they experience serious concentration fatigue,” Belozovsky explained. “Because I’m a native user, deaf viewers can go about 50 minutes before the concentration fatigue starts building. There’s research that shows that.”

Belozovsky said Depukat’s job isn’t easy, especially because ASL and English don’t always perfectly align.

“You know English speakers say, ‘You missed the boat?’ In ASL it’s something [like], ‘You missed the train. Train gone,'” he explained.

Belozovsky has been interpreting state press conferences and emergency announcements for about four years and said sometimes those who don’t speak ASL make comments about his gestures and expressions.

“People who don’t sign often think it’s silly or think it’s over the top, but it really has to do with syntax, the grammar, etc.,” he said.

He said he uses facial expressions to help denote the tone of the speaker, if they’re being serious or cavalier, making a joke or expressing sadness. He also uses the space around him, using the example of pointing up to signal the federal government or down for the state. The language, he said, is visual and spacial.

“Sometimes people make comments and things and say ‘Oh that guy’s throwing up gang signs,’ and it’s like, you know, that’s really disrespectful to the deaf community,” he said. “We just ask that people are respectful of ASL. ASL is a beautiful and natural language.”

This story has been edited for clarity.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Providence

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