She has become an internet sensation without ever speaking a word.
“America’s new sweetheart with swagger,” says one tweet. “Superstorm Sandy’s new internet star,” says another.
They are talking about Lydia Callis, the sign language interpreter standing next to Mayor Bloomberg helping to disseminate critical information in the aftermath of the hurricane.
“It’s about time they are providing access (for the deaf) to information, especially in emergency situations,” says Kim Kurtz, who is deaf.
What’s attracting all the attention is Callis’ expressive style. One music video cut rapidly between her gestures and facial expressions to the music “I saw the sign.”
When it comes to American Sign Language, actions speak just as loudly as Mayor Bloomberg’s forceful words – “stay at home” or “evacuate.”
“It’s in his voice and you and I can hear that. The interpreter must emphasize it visually,” says Michael Rizzo of Interpretek. His Rochester company provides signing interpreters.
Lydia Callis worked for his company. “She worked here at the beginning of her job and did a great job,” he recalls. “I hope her career continues to flourish.”
Callis learned American Sign Language in the classrooms at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester. Students here are among her biggest fans.
“I think it’s awesome, it’s going to bring a lot of awareness to our profession,” says Jacqueline Greer, a second year student.
“I think it’s really cool that a lot of people are getting interested in interpreting and are fascinated by it,” says Nicole Kessler.
Interest in American Sign Language is exploding. NTID has one of the largest and most competitive programs in the world. It’s grown 400 percent in recent years.
“Deaf people have been fighting for decades to get it recognized as a language in it’s own tight, and now we’re finally starting to see that recognition,” says Kim Kurz who runs the American Sign Language degree program.
ASO is a four year degree, though it takes another three years of daily emersion using the language in order to be considered proficient. “I think that people don’t recognize the difficulty of it,” says Kessler who first started using the language to communicate with a friend who is deaf.
Thanks to the internet life of youtube and twitter, the spotlight on American Sign Language won’t end when the New York City press conferences do.