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How Deaf Interpreters Work Together During COVID-19 News Conferences

CHICAGO (CBS) -- You don't hear them, but they say a lot.

We're talking about a pair of deaf interpreters who appear during Gov. JB Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot's COVID-19 briefings.

This story started as a lighter look – what we call a feature. But it turns out it's much deeper.

June Pruzak is a certified deaf interpreter. Speaking for her as CBS 2's Jermont Terry interviewed her was Amanda Grazian.

If the two look familiar, it's because you can often find them standing by the governor or the mayor at the daily coronavirus briefings, interpreting for the deaf community.

"Amanda is my better half. We are part of team," Pruzak said through Grazian. "In order to make this interpretation effective, it takes both of us to make this work."

Pruzak's voice was not heard in this story, but we did hear from her thanks to Grazian.

"I'm profoundly deaf," Pruzak said. "I can't hear anything."

Yet Pruzak is still able to interpret the vital information to the deaf community.

"We're always nervous because we know the stakes are so high," she said.

People across the state watch what is going on at City Hall and the Thompson Center during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Pruzak's role is key.

"All this detailed information and it's a challenge – I mean, my heart is always racing when I step into the room," she said through Grazian.

You might wonder – how does Pruzak stand there relaying the governor's words when she can't hear?

Here's how it works – Grazian sits in front. She hears the message and then signs to Pruzak.

Pruzak then looks at Grazian, and in return signs the message – including visual gestures that are often viewed by non-deaf people as animated.

"I know at times, it looks like interpreters are having a good time up there or like making fun of somebody," Pruzak said.

But those expressions, according to Pruzak, speak directly to those hard of hearing. She is finding all the interpreters are inspiring youngsters too.

"There deaf kids who are thrilled to see there's a deaf person like them on stage," she said. "I'm able to be a role model to that deaf child who's going to grow up and know – I can be an interpreter. I can do that job."

In the middle of the pandemic, Pruzak and Grazian are uplifting many.

"I've had others say, 'Thank God that you're up there because you're so clear and it's so easy on my eyes,'" Pruzak signed as Grazian spoke.

Pruzak said closed captioning isn't the option most deaf people use, because many times, their reading skills are low and the words move so quickly across the screen.

MORE: Chicago Hearing Society

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