Meet the ASL Interpreters on the Front Lines of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Trenton Marsh, a certified deaf interpreter, and Clay Anderson, an ASL interpreter, are part of every Governor’s Office and Department of Health media briefing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Both are staff with the Utah Division of Services of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. They help ensure all Utahns, including those who are part of Utah’s Deaf community, can access the important public health and safety information being shared during these unprecedented times.

Their work has not gone unnoticed. Recently, KUTV 2, KSL Newsradio and ABC 4 have all highlighted Trenton and Clay's work to help hearing people understand why their efforts are so critical, what their workflow and process is, and how they are able to convey such complex information so seamlessly. The news clips are available below, including transcripts. 


EMILY CLARK: Happening now: They've become familiar faces during this pandemic, but you probably don't even know their names. ABC 4's Sarah Martin introduces us to the American Sign Language interpreters working through the COVID-19 pandemic in Utah.

SARAH MARTIN: They're unsung heroes during this crisis — interpreting for a community that is forgotten far too often. Our ASL team, here in Utah, is special because it's made up of both hearing and Deaf interpreters.

CLAY ANDERSON: I think one of the hardest things for me and Trenton has been our wardrobe. Our wardrobe is not made for this much TV.

SARAH MARTIN: Trenton Marsh and Clay Anderson have worked together and advocated for ASL interpretation for years. Trenton is Deaf and Clay is hearing. Jennifer Harvey interpreted for both of them during our interview; she's also on the team.

CLAY ANDERSON: Trenton and I have been on motorcycle trips together, so that counts.

SARAH MARTIN: Trenton describes Clay as a great dad and a cowboy. Clay says Trenton is an every-rider — he rides bikes and UTV's and anything else he can. They say their friendship makes interpreting in tandem possible.

TRENTON MARSH: People often will refer to captioning and wonder why captioning isn’t sufficient. My response to that, and to you as well, would be: Have you ever tried to follow something fully by captioning?

SARAH MARTIN: Not everything is captioned. And they say it's rarely captioned accurately.

TRENTON MARSH: And then in emergency communication, those things are urgent and the information needs to get out often. And it doesn't reach the Deaf and hard of hearing community through captions until much later. Another thing to think about is the language barrier. Many people in the Deaf community are not proficient in English because it's a second language for them. So, things that are really important or urgent, we want to make sure that's clear and in their native language.

SARAH MARTIN: In the past, ASL interpreters might have been called in for a single day or event. But, COVID-19 has created a space for continuous interpretation and a demand from the general public.

TRENTON MARSH: It does come with a sense of accomplishment that we've done the right things; that we've reached out to the right people. It's really amazing. Doing this often, I think, has allowed us to deliver a stronger product.

SARAH MARTIN: Trenton and Clay said that at a recent press conference, because of a slight scheduling issue, there wasn't an ASL interpreter present. And people noticed. People in the general public, who didn’t even need interpretation, asked where they were. They said this gives them a lot of hope that ASL speakers will have better access to information and representation in Utah in the future. Reporting, I’m Sarah Martin, ABC 4 News.


Starting at 1:05

JEFF CAPLAN: Time for the KSL In-Depth. We bring you these daily briefings from the Utah Coronavirus Task Force live on KSL Newsradio. You know that — you listen. They're usually at one-thirty in the afternoon. But, it's not really an option to listen for the deaf and the hard of hearing. That's why, if you've watched any of the briefings on TV or on Facebook, you probably noticed two hard working gentlemen interpreting in American Sign Language for the governor, for the state epidemiologist and others. It's a much-needed service. And we wanted to chat with one of these guys, and joining us live now on the KSL News Line is Clay Anderson with the Utah Division of Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Clay, thanks so much for your time and thank you for what you do.

CLAY ANDERSON: Hey, thank you very much! I appreciate you reaching out and wanting to talk to us for a little bit.

JEFF CAPLAN: You and your colleague, Trenton Marsh, have been very busy lately. Tell us how important it is, this work that you do.

CLAY ANDERSON: Yeah, it's essential. Especially in a time like this. You know, it’s really Trenton — the one who's been the go-to through all of this. He’s had a passion for interpreting during disasters for years. And we could never really figure out how to get into the media to make that seem as important to other people as it was to us. So, a few years ago he met Joe Dougherty, a public information officer, and the two have been working back-and-forth for years now. And as soon as this started, Joe reached out to Trenton; and, really, he has been the heart and soul of getting this all going. I would say that it’s essential. It’s essential to get information to individuals who don't have a way to access that any other way.

JEFF CAPLAN: Clay, you are a hearing person. Trenton is deaf, right?


JEFF CAPLAN: Okay, so when Trenton is in front of the camera during these briefings you’re actually interpreting for him and then he signs for the people watching at home? Is that how it works?

CLAY ANDERSON: Yeah. For an example, a good way to think about it is I’m Trenton’s ears in that moment in time. If you want to use maybe a little bit of a sports analogy — Stockton and Malone — we’re a team. Both of us have different functions, different roles; but, neither one of us can do it without the other. So, in that moment, what happens is I hear that message. What a lot of people think is I’m interpreting everything for Trenton; but, actually, I’m not. Trenton is really talented and I’m able to just give him bits and pieces of information. And when he gets that information he then unpackages it and puts it into beautiful American Sign Language, so that people can access that.

JEFF CAPLAN: We've heard so many positive and complimentary comments about your work and Trenton’s expressiveness during these briefings. Now, facial expression has something to do with grammar in American Sign Language? Yes?

CLAY ANDERSON: Yes. Very similar to in spoken language how we would use tones or selection of vocabulary words to change a message, the facial expressions do that for American Sign Language. A radio host isn’t seen and so you've got a lot of dynamic features that you need to utilize to get your message across to your audience. And I would say that’s similar to what facial expressions do for American Sign Language grammar.

JEFF CAPLAN: Finally, somebody who understands me! Clay, how difficult is it to interpret during such stressful times? With these technical, complicated topics — they're giving out websites and talking about small business loans and schools being closed. There's a lot of information to impart there. How do you do it?

CLAY ANDERSON: Well, the first thing you need to do is get a great team. And that’s what I did. I mean, I would love to take more credit for this; but, the reality is, a lot of prep work goes into that. Trenton gets talking points and does his best to retain a lot of that information before we even go on. You know the funniest thing is, it's not all that difficult stuff that’s hard. The hardest thing for me to do is when they come on and read off the names of five different people from five different organizations as fast as they can. I think that's what people are probably missing the most out there because that’s the most difficult part for me. But, when you have a teammate like Trenton who's good at taking a little bit of information that I share to him and making it technically and completely equivalent to what that message is, it just makes it easy. So, he spends a lot of time prior to those conferences making sure that he's ready and knows the information to share. And that’s what a certified deaf interpreter does. In the state of Utah, we’ve got several very highly qualified certified deaf interpreters; Trenton’s one of nine. But that is the rich resource that we have the luxury of utilizing. And I think a lot of people in Utah don't realize the benefits that you can really get from utilizing a professional, certified deaf interpreter in so many different situations.

JEFF CAPLAN: Clay, I want to thank you so much for the work that you and Trenton do together at all of these gubernatorial briefings. They happen usually weekday afternoons at one thirty p.m. I'm not sure, are they on the weekend as well?

CLAY ANDERSON: Only if something bad happens. So, since it started, we’ve done a few on the weekends. But, usually, it’s Monday through Friday.

JEFF CAPLAN: And let's hope we don't hear from you on the weekend. Meantime, we thank you so much for this glimpse behind the curtain and for the difficult work you do. It’s appreciated.


MARK KOELBELL: Hey welcome back. He’s become a familiar face on your TV during the Coronavirus pandemic. Trenton Marsh the man interpreting the governor’s press conference trying to get crucial information out to everybody, but Trenton doesn’t work alone Ginna Roe introduces us to the team that’s giving all Utahns access to information during these unprecedented times.

GOVERNOR HERBERT: Thank you all for your attendance here today.

GINNA ROE: By now you probably recognize him. This is Trenton Marsh, a certified deaf interpreter. He’s been dedicated to signing every one of the governor and health department’s press conferences on Coronavirus. What you don’t know is the work behind the scenes. 

TRENTON MARSH: My name is Trenton Marsh. I am a certified deaf interpreter.

GINNA ROE: Trenton is in the top left of the screen. Just below him is Clay Anderson, who is equally important when it comes to getting the governor’s messages out. We’ll get back to that. And in the bottom right is Jennifer Harvey, who has agreed to interpret this interview for me.

TRENTON MARSH: Because this is critical information, so I have to make sure that the most number of people can access that information, and so that the message is easily understood by most deaf people.

GINNA ROE: Clay and Trenton work together to get the information out. Trenton is deaf, so Clay acts as his ears. 

TRENTON MARSH: So I don’t have access to the spoken message, and Clay works with me to give me access to that message.

GINNA ROE: Clay hears the governor’s message and interprets it to Trenton, who gets the message to the public.

CLAY ANDERSON: The reason we do that is because Trenton is a native ASL user. So I would call him a linguistic specialist. So he’s a phenomenal interpreter, that’s the reason we use a deaf person, a deaf interpreter to interpret this message.

GINNA ROE: Together the two men provide information to a community that is often underrepresented.

CLAY ANDERSON: One thing that makes Trenton and I a great team is that we’ve worked together closely for the past 16 years.

GINNA ROE: Right now during a global pandemic that information is crucial.

TRENTON MARSH: It’s critical. I don’t think many people realize how very limited our access our community is.

GINNA ROE: Both men have worked hard to bring awareness to the need for better access to American Sign Language.

GOVERNOR HERBERT: I appreciate your willingness to share the information that we have today.

GINNA ROE: They say that they will be at every press conference to make sure that all Utahns stay informed. In Salt Lake, Ginna Roe, 2 News.

MARK KOELBELL: We appreciate that for sure.