The Deaf community in the United States, as well as American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters and devotees, welcomed this week’s news that the Biden administration had committed to featuring ASL interpretation during its daily briefings. However, one of the interpreters chosen for the job quickly became a subject of concern in the ASL community.
Heather Mewshaw, who interpreted for the briefing January 25, has a background as a partisan contributor of ardent pro-Trump content, which some have said is a sign that the Biden administration isn’t taking the job seriously. A petition on Change.org, for example, states that Mewshaw “is an original contributor and an administrator for Right Side ASL videos, which is now banned from Facebook and YouTube.” In addition, the petition states, she has used her skills to interpret “misinformation, conspiracy theories, and plans to overthrow Biden.”
The petition seeks to ban her from interpreting for the White House again. “Her actions are unethical and harmful to the Deaf Community at large,” it states.
In a statement that many in the community echoed, Deaf actor Nyle DiMarco tweeted that “Supporting a traitor’s mailicious [sic] lies & suppression of a free press is in direct opposition to this administration. Imagine what harm she could cause.., literally holding the message in her hands.”
As with all interpretation, ASL interpretation need to be conveyed in a neutral way in order to be ethical. The concerns of the community are not about what Mewshaw believes, per se, but about how she has chosen to act — and how, and what, she has chosen to interpret in the past. The point, said Deaf linguist Jon Henner in a thread on Twitter, “isn’t to say that this specific interpreter shouldn’t have work. Deaf people deserve access to all media, even fash media. I personally want to know if people in my community are fash or fash curious. Makes it easier for me to avoid them.” However, “I personally cannot trust the integrity of her interpretation. That means I have no reason to trust what the Press Secretary says if it’s coming through her hands.”