At the start of the Grantville City Council meetings, Tammy Andrews and Jamie Prentice sit facing the residents in attendance.
They focus on one resident in particular, Lewis Miller, and gesture with their hands when the councilmembers speak.
Miller is completely deaf. He said he lost his hearing after being sick as an infant. Andrews and Prentice are interpreters and they communicate the city council’s meetings and work sessions to Miller.
“I’m the only deaf person in Grantville,” Miller said, via interpreting from Andrews and Prentice. “There are some others in Newnan and others in counties around, but I’m the only deaf person here.”
The Grantville City Council approved the services of interpreters with Morris Interpreting Service Inc. in February 2019, after Miller expressed an interest in attending the council’s meetings.
“I’m interested in what’s happening in my city,” he said. “I know there aren’t many people here, but it doesn’t matter to me. I want to be here. I want to be involved.”
“For the most part, we’re seen but not seen,” Andrews said. “We’re for the deaf person and we’re only for the person. When other people see us, we’re a novelty. They might look at us to begin with but, depending on the situation, they might overlook us. And that’s our goal.”
According to Prentice, the interpreters make sure they do not draw attention to themselves. They typically wear dark clothing and avoid bright nail polish or fancy jewelry.
“We don’t want to change the dynamics of anything we’re providing access for,” she said.
As they interpret, Andrews and Prentice do more than gesture with their hands – they emote with their faces and use body language to help convey meaning.
“The different ways you hold your eyebrows can indicate positive or negative things,” Prentice said. “If someone is being sarcastic in their speech or offensive, you try to relay the message, whatever the message is.”
According to Andrews, part of the code of ethics for interpreters is that they must match the tone of the speaker and clients when they are doing their jobs.
Prentice said this tenet applies to profanity and politically incorrect phrases, too.
“Whatever (the person) is trying to communicate, you try your darndest to match their affect and goal in communication,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll double-check with somebody and say, ‘Do you want me to use that word?’ and if they say ‘yes,’ I’m saying it. Even if it is the most offensive word I would ever use.”
“There’s been times where, as interpreters, that we sometimes have to explain ourselves to hearing people,” Andrews said. “They’ll come back at us in situations. You’re not just interpreting, you’re voicing what they sign. You’re voicing for them.”
Interpreters often work in a team because the work can be draining, said Andrews.
The two switch who is interpreting every 15-20 minutes to allow the other to rest.
“Interpreting is taxing not only on the brain, but on the hands and the body,” Andrews said. “Your mind gets full of mush and your body starts wearing down.”
Being in a team has other benefits.
While one is interpreting for Miller, the other is watching the city council. If one of the interpreters does not know a word or misses a phrase, they can consult with the other on what was said.
“It is really important to have another set of ears and eyes in the off-chair to support what you’re doing,” Prentice said. “Tonight somebody was talking in a muffled way and if (Andrews) can see if they can get something by lip-reading or have a different access to what is being said.”
“When (the council) argues it does make it difficult for me to know what’s going on,” Miller said.
If one interpreter doesn’t understand what is being talked about, the other can assist by providing information.
“When you don’t have a frame of reference for what they’re talking about, it is hard to communicate,” Prentice said.
“You take from your life experiences a lot of times to understand what they’re talking about and that’s one benefit of working as a team,” Andrews said. “If one of you doesn’t know it, then more than likely the other one of you does.”
The American Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 to ensure businesses and other entities keep their services accessible.
“That might mean for somebody who is in a wheelchair, they need a ramp to get into a building. For somebody who is deaf, they need to have an interpreter to access communication,” said Thai Morris, founder of Morris Interpreting Service Inc.
Morris said American Sign Language has regional dialects like English.
There are also some differences in sign language between different races, according to Morris.
She said because of segregation, older generations of black citizens will have different signs from older generations of white citizens.
“The North signs a little bit different than the South. South Georgia signs a little bit different from Atlanta. The East signs differently from California,” she said.
According to Morris, most of the deaf population in Georgia lives in Decatur or on the northside of Atlanta.
Miller said being deaf in Grantville can be isolating at times.
“It’s hard to be deaf,” he said. “There are a lot of challenges involved, to be honest. There are only two or three deaf people and many people are hearing, obviously. It can be challenging from the isolation in that.”
“Most deaf people are far from here. They live far away. I’m kind of here by myself. I have to plan if I want to drive an hour or two hours where they live to visit. It’s an effort,” he added. “My best friend lives three hours away in south Georgia, and is also deaf.”
However, Miller said his lack of hearing does not impede much of his daily life.
He still drives, goes to restaurants and enjoys sports on television.
While his family is not able to sign in ASL, they are able to finger-spell words, he said.
“I drive. I get where I need to go. I go to the store and do what I need to do,” Miller said. “If I want to go to Six Flags, I drive there.”