As hundreds gathered at the 38th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Tribute at the University of Minnesota, a North Central University professor stood on stage, helping to make the event accessible to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community by providing ASL-interpreting for the inspirational program. Regina Daniels, M.A., associate professor in the Carlstrom ASL-Interpreting Department, was honored to be part of the event.
Daniels, who came to Minnesota from Maryland, is in her second year of teaching at North Central. In her short time here, she has become a sought-after interpreter for events of all kinds, including theater. She has been involved in several productions at the Guthrie Theater as an interpreter and sign-language coach. She relishes the connection to the world-renown theater, feeding a passion she’s had since she was a child.
Her mother enrolled Daniels, who is deaf, in dance class. “My mom put me in dance school when I was three and I’ve been doing it ever since,” Daniels said. She started participating in plays in high school and her passion for theater grew.
When a peer from another Minnesota college learned that Daniels had experience as a sign language coach for translation in theater settings, she connected Daniels to the Guthrie’s Accessibility Manager, and was soon being called upon to interpret and coach.
Unlike interpreting for conversation or public speakers, interpreting for theater involves rehearsal—just like the speaking actors in the play. The process is multi-faceted. “I rely on interpreters that are there who can hear,” Daniels explained. “They are interpreting for me, letting me know what’s going on in the play. We read the script, we break down the characters, and try to come up with specific language. I rely on the interpreters, watching what is on stage and the interpreters—that’s how I use my eyes to hear the play and we go from there.”
It is Daniels’ expressiveness as a communicator that makes her a great fit for theater interpretation. She uses her skills and personality to help coach other interpreters, including her students at North Central. Recently, the Guthrie hired Zachary Offner, a current North Central ASL-Interpreting student, and Rebecca Rees, a recent graduate, to interpret for the production, “Noises Off.”
Teaching to interpret for theater requires a different kind of preparation. “It’s all about my personality when I teach,” Daniels said. “I’m out there—I’m bright, I’m bubbly, I’m warm!” (Those who know Daniels readily agree with this assessment.) By being herself and modeling that confidence, her students start to use that in using ASL in a way that’s “not just academic, but free.”
Teaching beyond the classroom
Daniels already uses her skills in teaching beyond the classroom through her work at the Guthrie, and soon will have an even broader audience. In March she will be a featured presenter for the 2019 Deaf Missions Christian Interpreters Conference in Omaha. Topics she’ll cover in three different sessions will discuss diversity and people of color; Certified Deaf Interpreting CDI; and how to work with your peers through differences.
The third session is titled, “Black and White in a Beige World,” and Daniels will co-present with former North Central faculty member Bill Ross and will pull examples from the unique friendship she developed with Ross during her first year of teaching at NCU. “Bill and I worked well together. It doesn’t matter that he’s a hearing child of deaf parents and I’m a deaf child of deaf parents. I’m black; he’s white. People ask how we work so well together We’ve learned how to value the difference in personality. He taught me a lot in his world, and I taught him lot in my world. We’ve treated each other as equals.”
Accessibility is for everyone
Whether it’s teaching another generation of ASL-interpreters or being an interpreter on stage for an event, Daniels is passionate about the importance of including the Deaf community in the public square.
“It’s important for anyone to have access, because we want to access the same things as a person who can hear,” Daniels said. “It shouldn’t make a difference whether you can see or hear to be able to receive the experience.
“Interpreting and ASL language is very important. Closed captioning and open captioning is very important. Even though English is not always our first language, to be able to pick up that second language so we can feel on par with our peers, captioning is always important for accessibility.”
When Daniels came to North Central it represented a significant career change, and she freely shares that she has no regrets in making the move. “I just really want to thank North Central because I have been able to grow here more than I could imagine. I’ve learned so much related to believing and trusting in God, putting Christ first, following God’s plan, trusting Him. I’m able to bring this experience out into the deaf community.”
It is estimated that only two percent of the Deaf community are Christians, and Daniels said she has not always felt accepted by other deaf people as a Christian. “Through time in self-discovery,” she reflected, “I realize I’m a Christian first. My colleagues here help me understand I’m not alone, and the Deaf community is starting to respect me. They are seeing what my heart is. It doesn’t matter my name, reputation, and they are starting to see that. I think I’ve found my home.”
Sydney Groven, Instructor, Carlstrom ASL-Interpreting, assisted with this article.
Feature photo by Tom Wallace.