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Photo Caption: From left: NGA Deputy Director Stacey Dixon and NGA Director Vice Adm. Robert Sharp discuss the SLIOC during a tour of the center in Springfield, Virginia, June 28. Staff Interpreter Vanessa Schaffer stands by. Meanwhile, interpreter Andrea West demonstrates video interpreting with Jeff Barnette on-screen. Photo by Tony Boone, NGA Office of Corporate Communications

NGA reimagines sign-language interpreting to keep its workforce safe during a global pandemic

 Dec. 2, 2020

Photo Caption: Staff Interpreter Becki Rhyne (center) explains the SLIOC to NGA Chief of Staff Brett Markham and West Executive Sue Pollmann during a June 30 tour of the SLIOC in St. Louis, while Interpreting Services Team Lead Patrice “Renee” Thacker (left background) and Staff Interpreter Danielle Johnson (right background) assist. Photo by Kimberly Carver, NGA Office of Corporate Communications.
Photo Caption: Staff Interpreter Becki Rhyne (center) explains the SLIOC to NGA Chief of Staff Brett Markham and West Executive Sue Pollmann during a June 30 tour of the SLIOC in St. Louis, while Interpreting Services Team Lead Patrice “Renee” Thacker (left background) and Staff Interpreter Danielle Johnson (right background) assist. Photo by Kimberly Carver, NGA Office of Corporate Communications.

The Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Employment Opportunity debuted its new Sign Language Interpreting Operations Centers, or SLIOCs, earlier this year.

The SLIOCs are centralized video remote interpreting hubs where NGA’s sign language interpreters can remotely provide virtual interpreting services for NGA’s Deaf and hard of hearing, or DHH, workforce who have returned to the buildings and the classified networks. Based on industry best practice and built with the assistance of NGA’s facility and information technology teams, these centers are the first of their kind in the Intelligence Community.

NGA’s sign language interpreters have maintained gap-free support to NGA’s DHH workforce since March, when many NGA employees began teleworking from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the COVID-19 telework environment, the interpreting team has been working from their homes to provide unclassified virtual services.

But as NGA reconstitutes and phases employees back into physical workspaces, the interpreters team had to get creative in order to continue to provide uninterrupted interpreting services from both a telework and an onsite posture while adhering to CDC protective measures and NGA safety guidance. Taking to heart NGA Director Vice Adm. Robert Sharp’s message of “reimagining” the way NGA does things while staying true to accomplishing the mission first and supporting people always, the SLIOCs were the team’s answer.

The SLIOCs allow the sign language interpreter team to provide a consolidated operations center of video-based interpretation support on-site at NGA’s campuses in Springfield, Virginia; St. Louis; and Arnold, Missouri. Each center consists of a secure room on the classified network, equipped with dedicated interpreter workstations -- and particularly their DX-80, the system used for video interpretation – to connect securely from their desks to the systems of DHH employees.

This setup allows the sign language interpreters to maintain social distancing without the need to wear masks, as facial expressions serve a key role in interpretation, and allows DHH employees, interpreters and their NGA colleagues to participate in meetings and discussions safely and help provide equal footing to all employees as they return.

“NGA’s new Sign Language Interpreting Operations Centers are a collaborative project, led by interpreting services and the DHH community, that helps all NGA team members communicate with each other while maintaining appropriate safety precautions due to COVID-19,” said Martin Cox, deputy director of NGA's Office of Diversity, Inclusion and EEO. “It’s been rewarding to see the SLIOC have such a beneficial impact on keeping the NGA workforce connected during the pandemic.”

Jeff Barnette, a member of NGA’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Council, participated in a demonstration and tour of the SLIOC for Vice Adm. Sharp and NGA Deputy Director Stacey Dixon. He and an interpreter demonstrated the interaction that takes place during a remote interpreting session.

"Through my casual conversations with other DHH members across other IC agencies, they have been remarkably impressed by the accelerated success NGA has had providing accessibility services for our DHH teammates,” said Barnette. “I hope that our success exemplifies the continued need to collaborate for increased accessibility options for everyone across the IC.

“Major Bravo Zulus to both Director Sharp and Deputy Director Dixon for being our biggest advocates in supporting accessibility services in NGA," said Barnette.