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Phoenix Forward magazine

As a sign language interpreter, instructor Dana Taylor ensures nothing gets lost in translation

Dana Taylor

Some third-graders say they want to be firefighters or ballerinas when they grow up. Not Dana Taylor. She wanted to be an interpreter for the deaf. Even as a girl, she was fascinated that people could “talk” without actually speaking, she says.

Now fully fluent in signing, Taylor, who is chair of the College of Humanities and Sciences at the University of Phoenix Savannah Campus, has interpreted for people from comedian Ellen DeGeneres to President Barack Obama.

The president sought Taylor’s services during his 2010 Main Street tour stop in Savannah to discuss the U.S. economy. For DeGeneres, Taylor interpreted for the San Diego taping of the comedian’s first HBO special.

“I was always a child who was very sensitive to other peoples’ needs and wanted to help them,” explains Taylor, who is also campus disabilities service advisor.

Growing up in Pittsburgh, Taylor taught herself the sign language alphabet by studying the symbols for each letter in her dictionary. When she was 14, her mother enrolled her at a community college, where she took every American Sign Language class offered. She later won Miss American Teenager of Pennsylvania after pantomiming a song and telling judges she wanted to help deaf children.

Interpreting is connected to everything I do.

She started The Elijah Agency, an interpreting service, in her high school Junior Achievement business program and soon had her first job. “I wasn’t even nervous,” Taylor recalls about signing for a corporate business meeting. “Interpreting feels so natural and peaceful to me.”

In college, Taylor consistently found work, which included interpreting for fellow students, while she earned a bachelor’s in elementary education from Edinboro University in Pennsylvania. She eventually earned a Doctor of Education in Pastoral Community Counseling from Argosy University.

Taylor says she realized how influential interpreting had been on her 38-year career when she was an administrator at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, in the 1980s: She found herself using accounting principles she had learned while interpreting for an accounting major at Edinboro.

Signing also honed her communication and organization skills, she says, helping her better connect with clients at hospitals, corporations and in the military, and with students and faculty members in her role of overseeing the Savannah Campus’s colleges of Humanities and Sciences and Criminal Justice and Security. Those abilities also come into play in her jobs as a pastoral counselor, certified mediator and licensed minister.

“Interpreting,” Taylor emphasizes, “is connected to everything I do.”

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