Coronavirus

‘A Challenge to Not Cry Myself’: NYC’s Sign Language Interpreter on Pandemic Work

Jonathan Lamberton is the man seen aside the mayor (or due to social distancing measures, in a box on screen) providing sign language as powerful as the words the mayor is delivering to the city and beyond

NBC Universal, Inc.

Mayor Bill de Blasio's press conferences have become a regular part of people's days since the outbreak of COVID-19 began, and one person has been a consistent presence on-screen with him, providing the same vital information to many New Yorkers.

Jonathan Lamberton is the man seen aside the mayor (or now due to social distancing measures, in a box on screen) providing sign language as powerful as the words the mayor is delivering to the city and beyond.

"It’s an honor to be able to provide critical important information for deaf New Yorkers and everyone viewing during this pandemic," Lamberton told NBC New York, with his wife Andria Lamberton providing the translation.

Jonathan is deaf, creating a partnership in life with Andria that, on occasion, also overlaps at work.

"The first few weeks there were others that would work, and I would interpret once in a while," Andria said.

What isn't seen on camera is the work the Lambertons and their fellow interpreters do off-screen to get the important messages out there for the hearing-impaired community.

Generally, a partner who can hear will listen to the mayor, and then sign that information to Jonathan in short hand, who in turn relays it in greater detail on TV. It's a practice that's widely used, and Jonathan said he can tell the difference between interpreters.

“I can personally see the difference and note when the interpreter is deaf, the way that they are interpreting is clearer," Jonathan said.

He has been signing for the city since the Ebola scare years ago — and just like then, the weight of what he’s signing can take a toll on him.

"Sometimes when I’m interpreting it’s a challenge to not cry myself, it is on my mind but I’m able to put it on the mental backburner while I’m focusing on my job,” he said.

But even as he now has to sign virtually from home, Jonathan remains dedicated to helping all New Yorkers get the information they need to keep them healthy and safe during the pandemic.

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