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Iconic interpreter Nigel Howard's ASL course starts at UBC this week

Last Updated Sep 8, 2020 at 1:17 pm PST


Sign-language interpreter Nigel Howard will be teaching an ASL course at UBC this semester

Howard is well-known for interpreting B.C. COVID-19 briefings with Dr. Bonnie Henry

Howard's course will be the first accredited sign-language one offered at the university

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The sign-language interpreter who has become a fixture in B.C. during COVID-19 briefings will be passing his knowledge on to the next generation by teaching an American Sign Language class at UBC.

Since the pandemic began, Nigel Howard has become a local celebrity of sorts, often seen standing behind Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry expressively translating her words into sign language for the deaf and hearing impaired.

Howard’s course will be the first accredited sign-language one offered at the university, meaning students can earn credit towards their degrees.

Speaking through an interpreter, Debra Russell, Howard says many people don’t know the history behind sign language.

“Many people think sign languages are new, they’re not new. They’ve been with us as long as humans have been on this planet, but they’ve been misunderstood or overlooked. I think they’ve often been stigmatized — languages that deaf people use because they can’t use spoken languages — people miss the richness of a signed language they miss the richness of our culture.”

Howard says it seems more people are aware of the deaf community and its own language, as well as how beneficial it can be learning that language.

“There’s a real opportunity for us here to shift from a pathological perspective to recognizing that deaf people exist and they use a signed language.”

Despite his newly found celebrity status, which includes a Facebook fan page dedicated to Howard, he isn’t taking all the credit.

“Often people stop me on the streets and they say, ‘Thank you for your work, your expressions are so clear, the message is really important, we recognize how serious it is based on your facial expression.’ It’s an honour, I think, to do the work and for me, I think the recognition should go to our government officials who have handled this so well. I may be the conduit for their information, but it’s their work.”

Howard is an adjunct professor in the linguistics department at UBC and the online course starts this week. Attendance is capped at 30 students.