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Sign language interpreter helps the deaf community understand COVID-19 briefings

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Posted at 4:34 PM, Nov 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-12 21:40:05-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Since the pandemic began, local officials have been holding important news conferences -- sometimes on a daily basis. That includes Amy Lankheit. You may not know her name, but you know her face and her mission. She's one of a handful of American Sign Language interpreters that have been used at both the state and local level for COVID-19 briefings.

But if you ask her -- she's just the messenger. "Just making sure that everyone in the deaf and hard of hearing community had all of the information to make life-changing decisions for themselves to get through this time," said Lankheit.

Even before the pandemic, Lankheit's schedule got incredibly busy with briefings following the March 2020 tornadoes. "They needed to know what to do with the damage to their houses and the electricity being out," she said.

From one whirlwind, straight into another, she says COVID-19 was so new, there wasn't even anything in American Sign Language for it until someone created it.

Amy's introduction to sign language came out of necessity when two of her brothers were born deaf. "I was the only one that knew sign language so I saw how language deprivation really impacted our family and my brother’s specifically," she said.

That experience encouraged her to work with Bridges for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to become her life's passion. "After watching that my whole life, I knew that God had given me this passion to continue advocating for that group of people," said Lankheit.

Services at Bridges are becoming more important now than ever. The non-profit estimates 15% of Tennesseans are either deaf or hard of hearing.

In addition to news conferences, Bridges provides interpretations for pretty much every facet of life -- from doctor visits to business meetings. "We advocate because we see there’s such a lack of equal access, especially in communication. And communication is a human need," said Lankheit.

So she's grateful for her role, even if it's only as the messenger.