Q&A: Patty Sakal, Sign-Language Interpreter, Hawaii Interpreting Services

ASL interpreter signing in front of governor and podium

Patty Sakal is a familiar face to folks who tune in to the near-daily COVID-19 media briefings led by Gov. David Ige and City and County of Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell. Indeed, with more than 35 years of experience as an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, it’s likely you’ve seen Patty hard at work during countless televised or live-streamed state and county briefings quietly, yet expressively, interpreting the words of officials into ASL for Hawaii residents who are Deaf, hard-of-hearing or Deaf and Blind. We spoke with Patty to learn about the responsibility she feels interpreting important real-time information on COVID-19 for viewers in sign language and what she appreciates most about her work.

There’s so much information being communicated at these COVID-19 media briefings. What goes through your mind as you interpret?

Patty: The first thing I tell myself is, “Stay calm, breathe.” After all, it’s live TV … OMG! The news conferences are teamed with two interpreters switching at 15-minute intervals. Because the interpretation process is simultaneous, interpreting from one language to another – from spoken English language to American Sign Language – is very taxing on the mind as it is a complicated process. Having two interpreters supporting each other during that complex process assures that the integrity of the message remains consistent throughout from beginning to end.

Describe the mental and physical feelings at work as you interpret at these briefings.

Patty: I would describe this as being “in the zone.” For me, “in the zone” is a hyper-autopilot (mode) where I shut everything that’s “me” out. The most important component for me when I’m in the zone is the integrity of the message delivered in American Sign Language, and the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community having access to the same message in real time.”

What’s the best part of your job?

Patty: It’s knowing that the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community in Hawaii whose first language is ASL have equal access to vital information that will keep them safe. The personal love of my job is its diversity – the complexities of ASL, where no concept is ever without expression; and having a job where no two days of work are the same. Doing this allows me to honor and carry the rich Deaf heritage of ASL and Deaf culture given to me by my parents.

The DOH extends a gracious mahalo to all of Hawaii’s ASL interpreters for their diligence and accuracy in providing immediate and effective ASL translation to our Deaf and hard-of-hearing community.


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