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Sound and silence

Cory Fisher

Bruni Beaty lives in two worlds.

In one, incessant noise and chatter forces the mind to constantly filter out irrelevant distraction and meaningless messages.

In the other, a focused, vivid, pictorial reality creates a heightened awareness of images and behavior.

As an interpreter for the deaf and hearing impaired, Beaty moves gracefully between what she calls slightly different realities.

With language and concepts based on shared experience, variation in the senses create subtle differences in perception, not unlike people from different parts of the world.

“Just like the Eskimos have nine different words for snow, there are some subtleties in American Sign Language that don’t translate well – in some ways it’s more descriptive,” said Beaty. “ASL is more conceptual, many say it’s a lot closer to Chinese.”

Weddings, funerals, doctors’ offices, courts, business meetings – you name it – she has been there, acting as a communication conduit.

In fact, Beaty served as the sole interpreter for the recent Presidential Forum, working four-hour stretches for several days.

“Everybody gets a rest except the interpreter,” said Beaty with a laugh. “Most people talk for awhile, then get a chance to rest – but my hands are flying the whole time. The brain shuts down before the hands do.”

But most of the time, Beaty can be found at Lake Tahoe Community College, where she interprets for deaf or hearing impaired students who are mainstreamed into regular classroom settings.

“It’s very rewarding to see a student grasp something new, like in a philosophy class,” said Beaty. “It’s so valuable to have deaf students participating in a regular class, and get to the point where it feels natural.”

Known as the hidden disability, Beaty says many hearing people mistakenly interpret her students’ actions as rude. “Hearing people tend to think they’re being ignored if they don’t know a person is deaf,” she said. “I wish people would be a little more sensitive and not treat them like second-class citizens.”

And if you think they won’t pick up on it, you’re wrong.

Many deaf or hearing impaired are masters at reading human emotions, Beaty said. “They are very perceptive compared to hearing people – they can pick up even the slightest facial expression,” she said. “Not much gets by them – they read body language incredibly well.”

In fact, facial expression is a vital, integral part of sign language, conveying subtle nuances that Beaty says are sometimes hard to communicate through the spoken word.

Originally learning ASL to communicate with friends, Beaty says she loves being a bridge between two worlds and intends to continue interpreting “as long as it’s needed and my brain and hands keep working.”

An important goal for Beaty is to encourage those in the performing arts to make use of interpreters.

“Hopefully ASL will branch out more locally,” said Beaty. “Many deaf or hearing impaired people don’t even see the arts as an option because it’s been closed off to them for so long.”


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