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Historic inclusion of sign language at the inauguration celebrated: 'Representation matters'

Kerry Justich
·4 min read
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A Georgia fire captain made history at Wednesday’s inauguration when she led the Pledge of Allegiance in sign language.

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.

Captain Andrea Hall of the South Fulton, Georgia, Fire Department delivers the pledge of allegiance during the 2021 Presidential Inauguration. (Photo: Getty Images)
Captain Andrea Hall of the South Fulton, Georgia, Fire Department delivers the pledge of allegiance during the 2021 Presidential Inauguration. (Photo: Getty Images)

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.

Some even reflected on how it impacted the experience for hearing impaired family members, expressing that it provided necessary representation for young children.

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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