Heather Mewshaw, a former White House sign language interpreter who served in both the Trump and Biden administrations, says the Biden administration humiliated and canceled her after reports emerged that she is a Trump supporter who formerly translated speeches for conservative social media groups.
Mewshaw, a 41-year-old married mom of four from Glen Burnie, Maryland, says she hasn’t been offered a return engagement at the White House after Time published an “exposé” on her personal politics titled “Joe Biden’s Sign Language Interpreter Has Ties to Far Right,” according to a Monday report from the New York Post.
Mewshaw said that she has been the subject of harassment and threats following the release of the Time report, prompting her to fear for her own and her family’s safety. The Post reported that the harassment is because she provided “American Sign Language translation for the Hands of Liberty Facebook group and its defunct predecessor, Right Side ASL.”
“Those videos include one featuring former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani that’s titled ‘What Really Happened on January 6th?’ — the day of the deadly storming of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters — and another, since removed, that features controversial Dr. Stella Immanuel, who has prompted treating COVID-19 with hydroxychloroquine, which the FDA has banned for that purpose,” the Post said.
In a statement to the outlet, Mewshaw said, “The goal of my activity — at the White House or with Hands of Liberty — is that it’s all about access. The thing is, I was cancelled and humiliated publicly and it was unjust and unfair.”
Mewshaw insisted that while she is a Trump supporter, she simply translates to provide information access for deaf people, and said that her critics “don’t want this content to be interpreted because they don’t believe in it.”
“Deaf people just want a chance to decide for themselves what information is out there,” she said according to the outlet.
A spokesperson for the Biden White House declined to comment on the reports and referred the Post to a previous statement that said, “The President and this administration have made a commitment to having an ASL interpreter at every press briefing and are working to follow through on that commitment every single day.”
A portion of Mewshaw’s full statement says:
My role as a Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) certified American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter is to facilitate communication between Deaf and non-signing parties in an effective, accurate and impartial way. The Deaf community, along with their allies, continue to fight for the right to have equal access to information that the general public enjoys without hardship.
Regarding my interpreting at The White House. I worked there as an independent contractor. I interpreted five (5) briefings for The Trump Administration in November and December 2020. On January 25, 2021, I interpreted for The Biden Administration at a press briefing. Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced that all future daily White House press briefings would have an ASL interpreter and she even introduced me to the world. That announcement is a huge advancement for the rights of the Deaf community and is to be commended. I was honored to be the interpreter that day.
To my surprise, the remarkable win of having an ASL interpreter at every White House press briefing has been overshadowed, by a few who, without evidence or merit, chose to cast aspersions against my ability to be objective and impartial because of my involvement in a conservative social media group. These unfounded claims about me were picked up by the media and numerous articles were written about this erroneous conclusion.
As a child of Deaf parents, abbreviated as CODA in the Deaf community (child of a Deaf adult), I have spent my whole life participating in the fight for the rights of Deaf people to have access to the same information as hearing people. In fact, my first language was ASL as it was my primary form of communication with my parents. As a CODA, I am in-between two worlds, the Deaf and the hearing, and I am in a unique position to unite those two worlds together.
Many videos on social media are not interpreted nor captioned. The ability for anyone to upload a video from their devices instantly brings an increased access challenge in this digital age. Groups formed on social media to interpret this video content for the Deaf community, however conservative content was generally not interpreted. Therefore, Michael Thompson, who is Deaf, created Hands of Liberty (HOL), formerly known as Right Side ASL, to fill the gap. HOL is an all-volunteer group, providing ASL access to videos requested by the Deaf community for free. The group has received over 2,000 video requests to date, since its inception in June 2020. The videos requested are of a variety of topics including but not limited to; speeches from the Presidential candidates, White House press briefings, Congressional hearings, television news segments and viral content. These interpreted videos support the Deaf community’s right to participate in all aspects of society and the right to informed choice. For me personally, my interpreting of a video requested through HOL does not necessarily equal an endorsement of the content of that video.
The mostly negative media coverage of me in recent weeks has been a disservice to the ASL interpreting profession. The message being conveyed is that ASL interpreters must have a certain set of beliefs or values that align completely with the consumers. We must remember that an ASL interpreter is relaying the message of another person and not their own. ASL interpreters are to be respected as objective professionals, irrespective of their own belief systems. There are examples of a double standard when it comes to ASL interpreters who openly identify as liberal activists working at events for conservative figureheads/politicians. These ASL interpreters are lauded by the media and their peers for having the ability to be objective and impartial. However, despite my undisputed professional work on January 25, 2021, I have been targeted and defamed by some in the Deaf community and the media because I worked as a Deaf advocate with HOL.
My work as an ASL interpreter has been, is and always will be effective, accurate and impartial. That is a core tenant of my certifications with the RID. My past work, my credentials, my unvarnished reputation, and 21 years of working as an RID certified ASL interpreter speaks for itself.