ASL Interpreter Spotlight – Jacklyn O’Brien

spotlightHIS Sign spotlights ASL interpreter Jacklyn O’Brien.

Jacklyn became interested in sign language at the age of twelve at a church music, art and drama camp. She joined the sign language group and learned a few songs and simple phrases. That summer she bought herself some books and began to teach herself Signed English.  She continued to practice signing as a hobby until the summer after her senior year of high school.

Jacklyn went on a missions trip to Chicago to work in a homeless shelter. Every morning the other group members did a worship service and Jacklyn would interpret the songs.  On the last day in Chicago a Deaf homeless man went up to Jacklyn and asked her to interpret the sermon – no one else in the shelter knew any sign language and he hadn’t been to, or understood what was happening in church for years. Following her best attempt at real interpreting that man encouraged Jacklyn to pursue a career in interpreting.

A few weeks after returning from Chicago Jacklyn started college as a nursing major. The first week of the semester she started the process to transfer to Mount Aloysius College in Cresson, Pennsylvania to major in ASL interpreting. Jacklyn graduated four years later in 2009 with her B.A. in Interpreting. She became NIC certified in 2013 and has been freelancing in a variety of settings since then.

Recently, Jacklyn performed the Carrie Underwood song “Just A Dream” at the Bringing the Stage to Life: Performance Interpreting Workshop Tour event, held in Nashville, Tennessee.  Click here to watch Jacklyn’s inspiring performance.

What inspired you to become an ASL interpreter?

I had been told since high school that I should pursue a career in interpreting or a job related to sign language, but I didn’t think I would be able to handle such a demanding career; until I met the Deaf homeless man in Chicago. His encouraging words to me were what made me finally decide to really look into interpreting as a career.

Can you share with us an interesting moment or event that happened to you on an interpreting job?


Jacklyn O’Brien

There’s not one specific moment, but a lot of little moments that really stand out to me. In my ITP I was told how small the Deaf and Interpreting worlds are and that there’s connections all over the place. I didn’t get what my professor meant until recently – I’ve been on so many jobs where I have a previous connection with the Deaf client or my team interpreter. Most recently I was subbing in an elementary school and I ended up teaming with someone from college I hadn’t seen in years!

What are some differences you see in the interpreting field today compared to when you first started?

There’s been a greater push for higher education and certification since I started interpreting.  As a whole I think requiring higher standards will make others respect our profession more. Throughout the past five years of my career I’ve felt, at times, that other people I’m working with don’t understand that I’ve gone through training and testing to be able to do what I do, and they don’t have respect for my job. Hopefully, in the years to come the higher standards for interpreters will also raise the standards in which the hearing community sees us and our profession.

What advice would you give to aspiring ASL interpreters?

Find a mentor, attend workshops, get as much education as possible, and integrate yourself into the Deaf community.  You can only learn so much from the books; the real world experience with skilled mentors and native signers is going to give you so much more knowledge and understanding of the language and culture.

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