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Sign language interpreter Marla Berkowitz is blazing a new trail for the Deaf community

As Governor DeWine's ASL interpreter, Berkowitz made Ohio history as first Deaf person to interpret for the Deaf community

COLUMBUS, Ohio — For the first time in Ohio's history, a Deaf person is interpreting critical information directly to the Deaf community. 

"This is really the first time that deaf people are able to have access to critical information that is impactful to their lives especially with a pandemic happening," explained Berkowitz in a recent interview with 3News Senior Health Correspondent Monica Robins.

"Access is really happening for the first time, for them to see it in their primary language, the language that is more authentic, that they can feel that they have true access to."

Since the pandemic began in early March, Berkowitz has been front and center with DeWine during his regular press briefings. She has subsequently developed quite the following - with a Facebook fan club, and even a bobble head in her likeness.

"I've been keeping up and reading everybody's comments and I truly do appreciate all of those," she said.

But Berkowitz, who is the only certified Deaf interpreter in Ohio, knows her impact will reach far beyond pop culture.

"We do need to have more deaf people who become interpreters themselves [and] there have been many requests for that need and I think that's wonderful."

There's no doubt the role is challenging. Berkowitz works with two other interpreters and an interpreter called a "feeder." And they don't always have much time to prepare.

"We do have an hour beforehand to prepare sometimes we get the information maybe 30 minutes before we're about to start interpreting and sometimes it's even 15 minutes before we're about to start," Berkowitz explained.

Despite the demands of working the briefings, Berkowitz tells 3News she's kept up with her other job, as Senior Lecturer with Ohio State's American Sign Language Program.

"I love teaching there, my students are very great, very patient with me. Because of this, I'm doing online teaching now and it's been very challenging for me to navigate that, but my students have been wonderful."

And, she knows - her work is not yet over.

"Deaf World Against Violence Everywhere is a statewide organization that I really am passionate about...[they] asked me if they could use my face for a t-shirt and I told them absolutely, but my favorite thing to say is 'we are in this together' so... remember that no matter where you are and whatever you're doing please remind yourselves that you need to take care of yourselves, be patient with each other, be kind, have compassion for each other, and we will get through this."