Walz honors ASL interpreter with proclamation

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Tuesday, Gov. Tim Walz wrapped up his COVID-19 press conference with a special surprise.

The Governor signed a proclamation marking Tuesday as "Nic Zapko Day" in honor of the American Sign Language interpreter’s work to help keep the public informed during his press conferences throughout the pandemic.

"Over the past year, Nic Zapko has provided critical ASL translation to update Minnesotans on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic,"

Walz said. "Nic’s translations have ensured that the Minnesotans who identify as deaf, deafblind, or hard of hearing receive real-time information about health and safety. Nic celebrates her birthday on March 9, and the State of Minnesota wishes her a very happy birthday and thanks her for her service."

Tuesday is also Zapko’s birthday and she shared with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that it was an “amazing day.“

Along with Zapko for the numerous briefings over the last year, was Patty McCutcheon. The two of them make what Zapko calls the “hearing team.” Without it, Zapko’s work wouldn’t be possible.

“(McCutcheon’s) responsible for taking in the information in her first language, English, processing it, then delivering it to me,” Zapko signed, as McCutcheon spoke to us while on a video call later in the afternoon.

“I can then process it and put it in my native language for a wide variety in my community (and) make sure I can meet their needs at the same time,” Zapko added.

On television, you’re used to seeing Zapko next to Walz, health officials, public safety officials, or any community leader that’s had to address the state during such a tumultuous last year, but you don’t see McCutcheon siting under the cameras, in front, as she signs to Zapko.

“You need to bring a hearing interpreter and deaf interpreter together to make that transfer of information,” Zapko described.

One way Zapko is able to do that so well is through her one-of-a-kind facial expressions – if you have every watched a briefing she’s part of, you know what we mean.

Zapko calls those expressions critical in her communicating.

“It’s equal to hearing people hearing the tone in your words – our facial expression is our tone.”

As honored as she is to have her own day and to be able to work alongside state leaders, Zapko, and the ‘hearing team’ are even more honored to be able to shine light on the importance of everyone, no matter the impairment, being able to obtain this information.

“(It’s) just inspiring to see this successful recognition of our language and our access,” she added.