A.S.L. Interpreter Who Gave Coronavirus Updates Dies of Covid-19 Issues

Patty Sakal, an American sign language interpreter who translated coronavirus updates for deaf Hawaiians, died Friday of complications related to Covid-19. She was 62 years old.

Ms. Sakal, who lived in Honolulu, died at Alvarado Hospital Medical Center in San Diego, where she visited one of her daughters last month, according to Ms. Sakal’s sister Lorna Mouton Riff.

Ms. Sakal, who served as an ASL interpreter in various settings for nearly four decades, had become a mainstay at press conferences on coronavirus in Hawaii, working with both former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Governor David Y. Ige Interpreting messages for the deaf community.

In a statement, Isle Interpret, an organization of interpreters to which Ms. Sakal was a member, called Ms. Sakal “Hawaii Interpreter License Fee”.

This was in part because Ms. Sakal understood Hawaiian Sign Language, a version of American Sign Language developed by deaf elders that she was exposed to during her childhood.

“It was used and sought after by the Deaf in the community because they could understand it so well and they could understand it,” said Tamar Lani, president of Isle Interpreter.

Ms. Sakal was born in Honolulu on February 24, 1958, to Hershel Mouton and Georgia Morikawa, who were both deaf. Her father was the first deaf teacher at the Hawaii School of Deaf and Blind in Honolulu, and her mother was a prominent political activist on behalf of the deaf community, which included participating in the early drafting of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Said Riff.


Jan. 20, 2021, 11:33 p.m. ET

“We grew up in a time when there were no interpreters,” said Ms. Riff. “So if you were a child of deaf parents, you automatically became your parents’ interpreter.”

Ms. Sakal turned this experience into a career as a professional ASL interpreter. During her working hours, she interpreted in all kinds of settings including theater, law, medicine and education, according to Isle Interpret. She served on the board of a nonprofit group that wants to open a center for the deaf named after her mother, the Georgia E. Morikawa Center.

Ms. Lani said that Ms. Sakal also committed to mentoring inexperienced interpreters and did so for her. Before her death, Ms. Sakal worked as a mentor on a year-long national initiative that Isle Interpret said would increase the number of interpreters in Hawaii.

“Patty has always been so generous with her time and knowledge and she has always been so kind to new interpreters,” said Ms. Lani. “She just really sees the potential in everyone.”

In an interview with Hawaii News Now, Mr. Caldwell, whose second term as Honolulu Mayor ended this month, praised Ms. Sakal for “really standing on the front lines.”

“Here it was, a pandemic, and it wasn’t safe to go, but it went out and helped get a job done that was vital for people who needed this information,” Caldwell told Hawaii News Now. Neither he nor Mr Ige could be reached immediately for comment on Wednesday.

Outside of work, Ms. Riff said her sister had a number of creative options. She wrote poetry and painted. She taught herself to play the guitar and drums and was a singer.

In addition to her sister, three daughters, Aisha Sakal, Amanda Sakal and Andrea McFadden, survive Mrs. Sakal. a brother, Byron Morikawa; and two grandchildren.

Ms. Riff said her family are “always very proud of Patty for picking up and carrying this torch, our mother’s legacy.”

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