Sign-Language Stars: Our Top 3 ASL Interpreters

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, those who depend on American Sign Language (the fourth most common language in the United States) might have felt uninformed were it not for the ASL interpreters who stood alongside elected officials during briefings.

Now, as we move towards post-pandemic lives, Hearing Tracker salutes all ASL interpreters by shining a spotlight on a few whose expressive style and outstanding dedication have kept us in the loop during times of crisis.

Arkady Belozovsky

ASL interpreters are tasked with conveying not merely the message but also the demeanor of an individual.  Arkady Belozovsky translated for New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which devastated the city in 2020. Governor Cuomo was often forceful—at times, even furious—and the Certified Deaf Interpreter never held back, expressing that intensity to a T.

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Belozovsky, who is third-generation deaf, was born in Ukraine and as a child performed as a folk dancer, magician, and tightrope walker—experiences that may well have influenced his dramatic style. He emigrated to the U.S. with his family at age 16 and, after graduating from the Rochester Institute of Technology, began his career as an educator. Belozovky ran the Deaf Studies Program at the University of New Hampshire and has taught at Brown, where he was the university’s first full-time deaf faculty member. In addition to having Governor Cuomo as a client, he has translated for Gina Raimondo, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, when she was the governor of Rhode Island.

Belozovsky and his wife, who is hard of hearing, have four children, three of them deaf and one hard of hearing. He is so passionate about deaf culture that he considers himself blessed, not handicapped. Indeed, he has said he wouldn’t have it any other way—even if there was a “miracle cure” that could grant him hearing: “I’m happy to be deaf. We have a beautiful community and a beautiful visual language.”

Marla Berkowitz

Marla Berkowitz is accustomed to being the “only” and the “first.” She was the only deaf person in her family and is currently the only ASL Certified Deaf Interpreter in the state of Ohio. She was the first deaf student to attend the Jewish Theological Seminary's Davis School as well as the first deaf person awarded a Field Fellowship from the Wexner Foundation. Now, with three Facebook fan pages and a bobblehead figure in her image, this translating titan is truly in a class by herself.

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A senior lecturer at Ohio State University, Berkowitz rose to prominence interpreting for Ohio Governor Mike Even DeWine during his COVID briefings. She became an interpreter when she found herself frustrated by often inaccurate closed captioning. “Deaf people who use ASL deserve to have first-hand information about their health and safety at the same time as their hearing counterparts,” she has said. “The responsibility is enormous when it comes to interpreting for the public, especially during crisis times. For me, the ASL interpreting profession is sacred.”

And while she has said she finds her fame amusing, Berkowitz is gratified that she and other deaf ASL interpreters are able to serve the community directly: “For the very first time, deaf people are seeing their language in the spotlight. [It] is 100 percent accessible to them, signed by their own people, not second-language users.”

Lydia Callis

Live, from New York, when Superstorm Sandy devastated the city in 2012, Lydia Callis stood beside then mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Her uniquely animated style helped the Big Apple’s hard-of-hearing and deaf citizens obtain necessary info and services. What’s more, Callis triggered an enormous social media buzz and even caught the attention of Saturday Night Live. The sketch-comedy institution opened its November 3, 2012 show with Cecily Strong impersonating the interpreter. But Callis was just doing her job, humbly dismissing the hoopla: “It was important for me to express the urgency of what was going on.”

Lydia Callis, a sign language interpreter, translates a shortened version of an article by Douglas Quenqua, explaining how new signs are being developed that may enhance scientific communication.

A nationally certified ASL Interpreter, Callis grew up as the only hearing child of deaf parents—ASL was in fact her first language. “Being [my parents’] interpreter gave me purpose in life, and I really enjoyed it,” she has said. So it’s no surprise that she turned that purpose—and passion—into a career.

Callis herself has been on TV, interpreting for The View and Chopped, but her main focus is on setting the standard for excellence for her profession. Her company, SignNexus, offers communication services that recognize and support those who are deaf, deaf/blind, and hard of hearing. In her off hours, Callis actively strives to empower, educate, and advocate for the underserved in the deaf and hard of hearing community.