Meet Georgia’s ‘signer’ of the times

Coronavirus

ATLANTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Over the past few weeks, you have probably seen him at several of Governor Kemp’s press conferences, but you may not know his name. He’s the state’s official American Sign Language interpreter, David Cowan.

When Governor Brian Kemp speaks, most of Georgia listens.

“In so many departments like GEMA, they’re the brains and I am just the pretty face right?” said David Cowan, through his translator Aaron Shoemaker.

But for about 130,000 Georgians who can’t hear, they rely on David Cowan’s expertise.

“He hears the message, I am deaf. I can’t hear — he is hearing what they are saying and I translate it. I couldn’t do my job without him,” said Cowan.

Cowan’s a snazzy dresser: he usually wears black, sports a white trimmed beard and lets his personality shine.

“Sometimes these things run a little long. We’re working at that level for an extended period of time and need energy before I start working. If my energy is low before I wouldn’t be able to do a good job,” said Cowan.

While there is closed captioning, sign language interpreters say reporter questions are the most difficult because they’re unscripted unlike the governor’s press conference because they get a copy of the script before the press conference starts.

“We sometimes get the scripts for the press conferences ahead of time so we are able to prepare the message and see what the english content and do the rough translations mentally before the press conference actually happens,” said Cowan.

“ASL is our native language, this is what we speak and we understand it so much better than reading the English captions,” said Cowan.

“The English captions help, but it’s not 100% accurate and that’s not our native language,” said Cowan.

Cowan says he loves to translate important information during a critical time.

“It’s to see deaf people say thank you, finally someone to give us this information in our language — thank you!”

David Cowan connects with other state interpreters across the country twice a week – where they all offer feedback and tips on converting complicated medical terms.
Georgia leads the way because no other state has interpreters embedded in the state operations center.

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