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American Sign Language interpreter Brice Christianson providing vital service for Milwaukee Bucks fans

Press conferences are held in all corners of the globe, and media members listen and see what’s said and how it’s said. From press conferences, words and images are then transmitted to the public via traditional media outlets and ever-evolving social media. And sometimes, another approach enters the picture: sign language.

This season, the Milwaukee Bucks hired American Sign Language interpreter Brice Christianson, 36, to capture the words of Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer from his postgame press conferences, which are streamed live on social media.

Last week, New York Times reporter Scott Cacciola wrote a fascinating story about Christianson, who reached out to the Bucks with an idea for a unique job.

The Bucks agreed, and the ambitious Christianson is now filling a niche and helping more Bucks fans have a greater understanding of their team. By doing so, the Bucks are also raising awareness about communication challenges that members of the hearing-impaired community share.

Serving the community

Cacciola’s stellar article included these details:

Those who advocate greater access for people who are deaf or hard of hearing say that by live streaming Budenholzer’s bilingual news conferences on social media, the Bucks and Fox Sports Wisconsin are shining a spotlight on an underserved community while highlighting the importance of meeting their needs.

“The deaf community always mentions that they struggle with closed captioning,” (sign language specialist Christopher) Rawlings said. “But with American Sign Language, we get full access to our visual language. There’s clarity. It might be a close game, and I cannot wait to see what Brice does.”

More than 500,000 people in Wisconsin are deaf, hard of hearing and/or deaf-blind, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. And while many people who are deaf have strong English literacy skills, Christianson said, some struggle with it as their second language.

Children who can hear typically learn to read by listening to how words sound. Those who are deaf often struggle to find educational programs in public schools that can help them learn in different ways. As a result, closed captioning is not always an effective form of communication, especially as captions do not capture emotion, inflection or tone.

Interpreters, though, can convey all the nuance that captions miss.

“People just seem so excited and astonished that we’re even doing this,” Christianson said.

The Bucks are reaching out to an audience in a way that other sports teams aren’t, and they are attracting a loyal audience — including by those who benefit from having live sign language.. According to The Times article, there’s an average of more than 7,000 views per game for the team’s news conference via social media.

Perhaps the Bucks’ collaboration with Christianson will be a new model for teams across the NBA and other pro leagues around the world.

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