White House ASL interpreter gives talk in Lodi

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Julie Mertz, an American Sign Language interpreter, gave a talk in Lodi about her experience of working at the White House.

LODI — It’s a long road to the White House … and it’s one this local girl never imagined making.

Julie Mertz, a Lodi native, spoke to an audience of more than 140 people about her career as an American Sign Language interpreter in Washington, D.C., for both the Obama and Trump administrations.

After a dinner and conversation at Fairmont Seventh-day Adventist Church in Lodi on Jan. 28, Mertz spent more than an hour sharing about her upbringing, schooling and eventual career interpreting for the deaf.

“The White House … is not necessarily your typical job, so sometimes I work long hours, sometimes hours change at the last minute, and [my family has] been extremely supportive of me,” Mertz said.

In an evening filled with moments of poignancy, insights into her career and plenty of humor, Mertz shared stories that told of her unexpected path to being an interpreter for the deaf community and how that translates into more inclusion for those with disabilities.

“So often when people think of interpreters, they think of us standing up on stage and moving our hands about, hopefully in an understandable fashion for somebody,” Mertz said. “And it’s important for deaf people to have access to what’s going on, but I actually think that watching a person sign and me turning it into English is more important because … most of you don’t meet deaf people on a regular basis.”

Mertz said having someone like her to interpret ASL into English gives the hearing person insight into the deaf person’s life, thereby helping others to understand a little more what it means to be deaf in America.

“I also am certainly an advocate. Like I said, I’m not deaf. I can’t represent deaf people, but I certainly can advocate for the rights of deaf people,” Mertz said. “And I do that any chance I can get.”

The talk was attended mainly by people who lived in the area, however, outside of Mertz herself, at least one other person traveled a large distance just to hear the talk.

Melissa Bowen, a Lodi native now living in Southern California, came back to her hometown specifically so she could gain some knowledge about a career path she is headed down. Bowen, who is fluent in ASL, wanted to learn more about Mertz’s journey to glean what she could for her own.

“I’m not into the political aspect. I’m into the healthcare side of interpreting,” Bowen said. She said she felt it was an area with greater needs. Mertz shared that her White House job is not full-time. She works in healthcare herself, translating for deaf patients.

Both Mertz and Bowen cited the code of ethics that comes with interpreting, stating that interpreters have to be willing to interpret exactly what is being said, no matter how contrary it might be to one’s own beliefs and ethics.

“The most important thing for me to always remember is that I’m a guest in a deaf person’s life,” Mertz said.

To learn more about Mertz’s life as an ASL interpreter and her time at the White House, pick up a copy of the March issue of the Central Valley Business Journal coming March 1.

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