CNM Instructor Serves Passionately as Deaf Interpreter During COVID-19 Press Conferences
Nixo, left, translating for Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham

CNM Instructor Serves Passionately as Deaf Interpreter During COVID-19 Press Conferences

Nixo Lanning ensures the deaf community is receiving accurate and timely information
April 08, 2020

The COVID-19 outbreak put Nixo Lanning in the spotlight in a way she never expected.

Nixo, who teaches American Sign Language at CNM, has been working as a Deaf Interpreter  during press conferences around the state (she’s interpreted for everyone from Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham to Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller), and her style of interpretation has not only played a crucial role for the Deaf community, but also gained a lot of attention from everyone else.

The Albuquerque Journal recently wrote an article about her because her style of interpretation is so eloquent and passionate that it’s hard not to be captivated while watching.

“I’m just doing my job,” says Nixo, who we spoke too through a hearing interpreter. “I’m here to break down what can be a complicated message and ensure the deaf community gets the same access to important information.”

Here’s how Nixo does her job. As the governor or other elected officials speak, a hearing interpreter, who’s sitting behind the camera, uses a mix of American Sign Language and English to relay the information to Nixo. Nixo then quickly finds a way to encapsulate that information for a broad audience and uses American Sign Language to broadcast it for the Deaf community.

The encapsulation part of her job is particularly important. Just like the hearing community, Nixo says the deaf community has a broad range of registers. Some might use more slang when they speak, and some use a more traditional form of American Sign Language. She has to find a way to communicate with all of them. As an example, she uses a straight-forward sign for the virus that’s easy to see—a fist punched into her palm with her fingers splayed. 

“I’m always trying to find the middle ground,” she says. 

Previous interpretation experience really helped Nixo be prepared. Before the outbreak, she worked as an interpreter in various fields including health care, mental health, and education, all of which use complicated terminology and have high-stakes outcomes. She also has 40 hours of interpretation training and will become one of just a few Certified Deaf Interpreters in New Mexico once the organization starts re-administering the test. 

At this point, Nixo has done so many press conferences she’s lost count. But she says that’s a good thing. As a state, New Mexico is often criticized for a lack of services. But Nixo says New Mexico has been at the forefront of ensuring the Deaf community has reliable and consistent information during the outbreak. '

“I’m really glad that the state is recognizing our needs for access,” she says. "Before, the needs of the Deaf community were sometimes thrown under the rug, but now everyone seems to be more open-minded and considerate, and that’s a big step forward.”

Learn more about CNM’s American Sign Language Certificate program.