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Andrea Hall, 47, became the first Black woman to be named captain of the City of South Fulton Fire Rescue Department in 2004. But after 28 years as a firefighter, she is now getting national recognition for her inclusive appearance at Biden’s swearing-in ceremony.
While leading the pledge in spoken language, Hall also used American Sign Language (ASL) — something that isn’t often seen during a televised event, but instead provided by interpreters on a portion of the screen for viewers at home. The CEO of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), Howard A. Rosenblum, tells Yahoo Life that it’s even possibly a first for such a historic event.
“Deaf and hard of hearing people are thrilled that American Sign Language was incorporated directly into the inauguration program, possibly for the first time in history,” Rosenblum says. “The National Association of the Deaf is grateful to Captain Andrea Hall for making our language, ASL, visible to all of America on national television.”
Many are calling the moment an incredible symbol of a more inclusive nation, including deaf actor Nyle DiMarco.
A refreshing sight to see accessibility and inclusivity. pic.twitter.com/Cggvp6TTub
— Nyle DiMarco (@NyleDiMarco) January 20, 2021
A Black woman who is a career fire fighter just led the Pledge of Allegiance while interpreting in sign language.
That, my friends, is what inclusion and celebration of diversity feels like pic.twitter.com/NmgFyNzw2e
— Fred Fletcher (@ChiefFletcher) January 20, 2021
I’m not sure why the Fire Captain saying the Pledge of Allegiance in sign language got to me, but I’m bawling now. Love, kindness, and grace has made its way back to the White House. 🙌🏾 #InaugurationDay
— Tiffany M. Montgomery (@DrTiffMonique) January 20, 2021
A Black firefighter who gives the pledge in American Sign Language!!
I LOVE THIS AMERICA.
— Jessica Goudeau (@jessica_goudeau) January 20, 2021
I was holding it together until the fire captain from Georgia said the Pledge using both speech and sign language. The inclusiveness of it all washed over me and I broke. Then it was all tears, all the time. Still.
— Rhonda Jacks Moore (@JacksMoore512) January 20, 2021
Some even reflected on how it impacted the experience for hearing impaired family members, expressing that it provided necessary representation for young children.
The pledge of allegiance in American Sign Language was really incredible. (I'm a parent of a hearing impaired child)
— Jennifer W. Sheehan (@jenwsheehan) January 20, 2021
When they called the fire captain down to do the pledge my 9 year old daughter screamed “mama it’s a girl! and she uses sign language.”
— Stay at Home Mom for Yang 🧢 🍎 ✏️🦉 (@pickylife) January 20, 2021
Brian Switzer, an assistive technology instructor with Perkins School for the Blind’s Career Launch at Perkins who is deafblind, assures Yahoo Life that the moment is significant.
“With a renewed focus on diversity and inclusion in America, it is exhilarating to see American Sign Language being signed at the highest national level,” he writes via email. “ASL is the third most common language in the U.S.”
Still, people within the community, including a deaf writer named Soluna, wished for ASL interpreters throughout the televised event. She even created a petition on change.org to incentivize the congressional committee to make that happen.
“For the inauguration in 2021, I would like to propose that the federal government not only have an ASL interpreter present at the live event, but also provide televised coverage of the interpreter throughout the event on a portion of the screen for viewers at home. As a Deaf person, this new chapter should mark a time of inclusion and accessibility, not a further ceremony to show how divisive our country has really become,” the petition reads. “Just like hearing people in this country who would rather hear and see the Inaugural Address than read the words being spoken, we would much rather feel the passion and emotions of this time through sign language.”
Soluna didn’t immediately respond to Yahoo Life’s request for comment. However, she posted a video to her Instagram stories showing how she watched the ceremony with closed captioning and an ASL interpreter in a separate window on the screen. Rosenblum explains that this is the current alternative.
“It was our hope that the inauguration would have ASL interpreters visible on television throughout the program, but they were relegated to the internet broadcast which is appreciated but only accessible to those who have high-speed internet access,” he says. “As we enter a new era, the NAD looks forward to full inclusion of ASL in all future presidential events and briefings.”
As for the historic moment that did take place on national television on Wednesday, Hall told Atlanta, Ga. outlet WXIA-TV that she was “thrilled and humbled” by the opportunity, adding “It is a privilege and an honor to help usher in a new chapter of leadership for our country.”
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