When Ryan McMahon starts speaking at his daily COVID-19 briefings, the two women next to him get to work. Monu Chhetri is doing Nepali sign language. Grace Cogan is doing American sign language.
“This is the first time ever that two deaf interpreters were put on stage and it just speaks volumes about access and how access is so critical in a time like this,” said Grace Cogan, a deaf interpreter who lives in Jamesville.
Maggie Russell is Cogan’s partner. She sits in the audience and signs what McMahon says. On stage, Cogan relays it to the viewers at home.
“Your sign language interpreter is so expressive,” Cogan said. “Why is that? Well to let you know, expression is an integral part of the communication process for American Sign Language. For example. If I were to say something like I’m mad at this, my face is scrunched up.”
On the other side of the stage is Chhetri and her partner Zenna Preli. Originally from Nepal, Chhetri moved to Central New York in 2011. Quickly she became an advocate for deaf new Americans.
“I didn’t understand the people around me and it was very, very challenging,” said Chhetri, a deaf interpreter who lives in Liverpool. “I felt incredibly isolated. I had no opportunity to mingle with any deaf individuals. I thought there were no deaf people in America, and then when I met my first deaf person here, I saw that in Syracuse there were many deaf individuals after me who had no access to language.”
According to the National Institute of Health, 15% of American adults have trouble hearing. Chhetri and Cogan are making sure everyone has the information needed during the pandemic.