Houston’s sign language interpreter steals the show

ashley henderson pic

Sign language interpreter Ashley Henderson stole the show at a press conference held by the City of Houston and Mayor Sylvester Turner to discuss the impact of heavy rains and historic flooding on Houston and its suburbs. Media: Houston Chronicle

Houston’s sign language interpreter steals the show

By Camilo Smith

April 20, 2016

During Mayor Sylvester Turner’s press conference to address Houston’s disastrous flooding on Tuesday there was one person who stood out among the city’s officials. But it wasn’t a politician, member of an emergency agency, or a press officer. It was the sign language interpreter the city hired.

Ashley Henderson is an energetic interpreter who often works with the city, especially during televised press conferences that take place during disasters. She was there during last year’s flooding and again this year. She’s employed by the Nightingale Interpreting firm in Houston.

Her signing style became the subject of a Reddit.com post on Wednesday. It was hard to miss her enthusiastic facial expressions, and most people who commented on the post pointed out how that’s just how effective sign language works.


“Yes, it may look funny to those who don’t use or know sign language,” Henderson told Chron.com.

“But it would look funny to (American Sign Language) users if there weren’t any. Basically, if I talked English with no affect, intonation, pauses, it would be difficult for someone listening to pull the correct meaning, or to even be interested at all,” she explained.

“Expressions are the lifeblood of ASL and provide the much needed grammar, tone, structure and meaning into an interpretation.”

Henderson said she’s been getting steady work assignments for city government in Houston for three years. She received her training at Lone Star College and became a certified sign language interpreter about six years ago. She enjoys her work but said sometimes people just don’t get the importance of what she does.

“Some people complain about having to watch the interpreters next to whoever is speaking on TV because if you don’t know the language it can be distracting,” she said.

“Obviously, there are captions available on TV’s, but I think we can all agree that most of the time the captioning quality during a live event can get jumbled, making it difficult to read in general, and it makes for a disadvantage to a significant number of Houstonians who need pertinent lifesaving information.”



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