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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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You can see her signing

She stands proudly next to distinguished speakers, administrators and local politicians. She's signed for celebrities like Conan O'Brian and Stephen Colbert, and world leaders like Collin Powell and Al Gore. Diane Curthoys stands next to famous faces and gives deaf students the chance to enjoy everything UB has to offer, as UB's sign language interpreter.

Curthoys, who founded Diane Curthoys Interpreting Services, Inc., said that signing for the Distinguished Speakers Series is just a small part of her involvement with UB's deaf community.

Born and raised in Buffalo, Curthoys comes from a family with a history of hearing loss. Her father was one out of 12 children in his family, and all 12 had some form of deafness.

"My father and grandmother both became legally deaf," Curthoys said. "Nobody signed, we just shouted."

Although Curthoys came from a hearing impaired family, she was not inspired to learn sign language until after she visited the Riverside Assembly of God, a church that had signing for their deaf community.

"I saw somebody signing and I fell in love with the language," Curthoys said. "I thought it was beautiful."

Curthoys started attending the church, and decided to learn sign language, as well as how to interpret. Curthoys said that interpreting is a completely different level of sign language, because interpreting English to American Sign Language is not a word-for-word translation.

Curthoys noticed a gradual increase of deaf people attending the church services where there was sign language. She credits the deaf members of her church for helping her perfect her signing.

"Socially we would be talking and I would be stumbling through," Curthoys said. "I would spell the word and they would teach me the sign."

Curthoys decided to make a career out of communicating in a language she loves. She joined an agency that sent her to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where she became a certified interpreter.

After becoming nationally certified, she came back to Buffalo and began professionally interpreting.

"The people at the church became my little family," Curthoys said.

Curthoys continues taking classes in order to maintain her certification.

"The world is always changing, and you have to keep up with the changes," Curthoys said. "For example, when I first started people didn't have computers, e-mail, or iPods. Years ago, they didn't have those signs. As it changes we have to add vocabulary."

Since the establishment of her interpreting business, Curthoys has been hard at work interpreting throughout the community. She is called to local hospitals to sign for deaf patients, and has helped several patients through deliveries, surgeries and patients in the E.R. She also works for a videophone company, in which she translates phone calls for the deaf via videophone.

Curthoys is also an interpreter for True Bethel Baptist Church, where the church services are televised and broadcasted on the Internet.

Though she is a prominent figure in Buffalo's deaf community, Curthoys is best known interpreting for UB's Distinguished Speaker Series, and for a lot of political interpreting throughout Western New York, including for President Clinton and President Bush. Other politicians have included Collin Powell, Al Gore, Howard Dean, and Ross Perot.

"George Bush kissed my hand," Curthoys said. "I kind of liked him."

Other famous people whom Curthoys has interpreted for include Sandra Day O'Conner, Jerry Springer, I. King Jordan, Carolyn Rae, Conan O'Brian, and most recently, Stephen Colbert.

"Stephen Colbert was especially difficult, because he made up words," Curthoys said. "I just did my best and I would spell the word."

Curthoys also recalled it being difficult when Colbert sat on her lap. She said it's hard when the speakers use her as a prop during their speeches, because sometimes the deaf people don't know what is going on, and she has to catch up with her signing. "Carolyn Rae was another one. She wouldn't leave me alone," Curthoys said. "The deaf people thought it was hilarious but I was freaking out. It doesn't mean I don't like interpreting with them. I just have to step out of my roll."

Although she has met so many famous people, Curthoys said that she does not get star struck, and said that they are just people. If she has the opportunity, she will introduce herself to the guests, and they will usually shake her hand after the speech.

Curthoys finds it important to accommodate the deaf people at the events she interprets. She said she always wears black, so that the deaf people's eyes will not get as tired, and so her body remains as a background. She keeps her jewelry and accessories to a minimum, so that her movement is not limited, and so that there are no distracting objects. She also finds it important that there is proper lighting, and that the deaf viewers have a full view of her. Making sure that she can hear the speaker is another important aspect, so she will therefore usually have a speaker face her.

While she no longer teaches sign language classes at UB, she is a substitute interpreter for the deaf students on campus, when needed.

Although the Distinguished Speakers Series has come to an end for the year, expect to see Curthoys in the upcoming seasons, as well as events throughout the community.



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