For founder and CEO Lanette Pinkard, Black History Month is a time she takes to reflect on her community each year. Black History Month includes the larger Black community and the Black community served by her business, including Deaf and Hard of Hearing Black Americans.
As the founder of My Hands Your Heart, LLC (MHYH), a Black female-owned company, Ms. Pinkard leads a diverse team of American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters in providing top-level interpreting and translation services. These services pair deep professionalism with a profound passion for the field and her clients.
Pinkard has been a sign-language interpreter for over 42 years. She seemed almost destined to undertake this journey as a child of Deaf adults, also referred to as CODA. As a renowned expert and thought leader in her field, Pinkard’s mission today has expanded to include her dream of uniting the Deaf community and the organizations that serve them.
In a recent conversation with Pinkard, she spoke of watching her Deaf grandparents’ oppression and the lack of services they and other Deaf persons received. She remembered how it hurt to witness those she loved most being treated unfairly by a society that did not assign them equal value. It was then she vowed to help others in the same situation. It is of utmost importance to her for the Deaf Community to access the same respect, care, and communication as hearing people.
Today, her team of skilled interpreters works on a range of projects for clients in industries across the spectrum. For Black History Month this year, she reflects on the struggles of Deaf Black Americans and encourages the larger community to honor them.
An Uphill Battle
Suffering from a lack of hearing is difficult for anyone. It is more oppressive for Deaf members of the Black community. For decades they were unable to access education and services that were equal to what their non-Black counterparts received.
The Described and Media Captions Program posits that Deaf Black Americans often are subjected to double prejudices from the non-Deaf community related to their race and barriers in communication. They are often excluded from the larger Black community because of their deafness, while the Deaf community excludes them for being Black.
Since their inception, Black American organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban League, offered no communication access to Deaf community members and had no initiatives solely aligned with their needs.
Additionally, Deaf organizations and clubs in the US prohibited Black members for many years. The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) barred Black members for 40 years until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forced necessary changes. Gallaudet University, the world’s only university designed to be barrier-free for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing students, was founded in 1864 but did not enroll its first Deaf Black student, Andrew J. Foster, until nearly a century later in 1954.
Pinkard also pointed out many big names in the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community from which Deaf Black Americans take inspiration. While many people know that former Seahawks fullback Derrick Coleman was the NFL’s first legally Deaf player, he is far from the only familiar name in the community. In other sectors of entertainment, Halle Berry, Will.i.am, and Whoopi Goldberg all suffer from degrees of hearing loss.
Doing Her Part
After thinking about how she could best serve the community and creating a business plan that seemed destined for success, Pinkard launched My Hands Your Heart in 2007 to offer customized ASL translation for written materials of all kinds.
She later added Cruise Interpreter Academy (CIA) to educate interpreters to provide live interpretation on cruise ships. Having sign language interpreters on board the cruise ships affords the Deaf community access to fully-integrated communication as they enjoy vacations. Since then, her enterprises have been on a steady climb. She regularly adds to her large team of trained interpreters who provide an advanced level of services.
It’s more than simply translating text or interpreting live events for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing audiences; MHYH trains their on-staff interpreters about their client’s policies, practices, procedures, and environmental customs to allow seamless interpretation.
With her ASL empire created from a place of altruism, kindness, and skill, Pinkard can rest easy knowing that she has made her Deaf grandparents — and the entire Deaf Black community — proud.
About P. Lanette Pinkard
Lanette Pinkard is the founder and CEO of My Hands Your Heart LLC and Cruise Interpreter Academy. Her entrepreneurial organization serves organizations and companies with certified American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for Deaf and Hard of Hearing customers and guests. She has written five lifestyle inspiration books and has interpreted on over 100 cruises. For more information, visit https://myhandsyourheart.com/
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