Jessica Howell graduated from Eastern Kentucky University with a major in Sign Language Interpreter and graduated with a M.S. degree and NIC Certified. After graduating from Eastern, Jessica spent two years in Washington DC as a Interpreter. She moved back home in Ohio and shortly to Cincinnati where she currently is a Free Lance Interpreter. In 2011 she became a Ben-Gal Cheerleader, and now for the second year, she is on the 2012 team. She is active with the deaf and Cincinnati communities. She is a full time Interpreter and stays busy 24/7. if you ever tried to keep up with her, be ready to stay super busy!


Ted: Tell us a little about yourself

I give 110% in everything I do and constantly challenge myself to be better in all aspects of life. I live life to the fullest which is clearly shown with one look at my calendar. I’m an over planner and color code work life, Ben-Gal life, and personal life to make it all work! I currently work as a Freelance Interpreter, also referred to as an Independent Contractor. I get the opportunity to contract with amazing professions around the tri-state area, in and outside the state of Ohio, and even abroad!


Ted: Where are you from and why did you choose Eastern Kentucky University to go to school


Jessica: I graduated from Greenon High School in Springfield, Ohio. I like to tell people it’s north of Dayton, Ohio between the corn fields. It’s close to Yellow Springs which has the best homemade ice cream at Young’s Jersey Dairy as well as the best street fairs. Being the oldest of three girls, my parents were over prepared with the college search, especially since they both worked in education. I started my search my junior year and went everywhere in Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Even after looking at numerous schools, I only applied to one. I could tell by the feel of the campus and the people there that it was the perfect fit.


Ted: When you went to Eastern Kentucky, did you go with the intention of becoming a signing interpreter?


Jessica: I knew I wanted a 4 year experience and I knew I wanted to pursue a Sign Language Interpreting degree before applying to EKU. I took American Sign Language classes at a local community college for two years in high school. I was exposed to the basics of the language and the basics of Deaf culture. I was fascinated with sign language, then once I learned about Deaf culture and being an interpreter I decided on my major. At the time, Ohio only had two year interpreting programs and I was ready to move to a new town to meet new people and experience the dorm life.


Ted: What type of degree did you receive from Eastern?


Jessica: Eastern’s Interpreting program continues to grow and is one of the most reputable in the nation with accepting approximately 20 applicants every two years. The program is now titled as a B.S. degree in ASL-English Interpretation under the Department of American Sign Language and Interpreter Education. Their staff is highly qualified within the interpreting field and I still use them as a resource when making decisions about my career.


Ted: While at Eastern Kentucky University did you participate in sports?


Jessica: I was a part of EKU’s Dance Team which performs at all home football and basketball games. Both the cheerleaders and Dance Team are a part of the game day experience. Dance Team, Interpreting, and sorority life in Kappa Delta kept me busy in college. After graduating, I solely focused on my career in Interpreting. When trying out for the Ben-Gals in 2011, I hadn’t had dance in my life for about five years and I wanted do incorporate dance again!


Ted: After graduation you came to Cincinnati, at that time, did you know becoming a Ben-Gal Cheerleader was something you wanted to do?


Jessica: My program at EKU requires a working internship the last semester before graduating. I was accepted to Sign Language Associates Mentorship Program in Washington, DC. Just like my college search, after researching and visiting numerous options, this was the one I wanted. After interviewing with DC’s finest Interpreters, I was accepted with a small group of eager, new to the field Interpreters. After graduation, I was hired as a full-time staff Interpreter and stayed for two years. Because of my family circumstances, I had to move home and decided with family coming first I would always need to be close to home to be able to help when needed. It’s funny how hard times can become a blessing. I’m thankful with where my life has come and thankful for being able to see those who truly love and care for me.


I started interviewing for work in Cincinnati about 6 months after putting life on hold. I worked early morning hours at a gym (opening the doors by 5am) and bar tending at a country club twice a week to make extra income while I was still networking for interpreting work. I was able to meet some amazing professionals that have helped guide me toward making good decisions and finding full-time work as a Freelance Interpreter. It wasn’t until my second year in Cincinnati when I started dating my boyfriend Guy who took me to several football games at the Paul Brown stadium. This is when I started becoming more interested in cheering on the sidelines.


I have always been a football fan. My dad was a football coach for years and always had football on the tv all day on Sundays and any other day there was an important game. I feel that ideas and opportunities show up at the right time and it became my New Years resolution in 2011 to tryout to be a Ben-Gal.



Ted: Being a Ben-Gal, has it opened up opportunities for you as a signer to connect more with the deaf community? Or a better question would be has it allowed you to impact the hearing. Making them more aware of the deaf community and the dynamics of it?


Jessica: I honestly tried to keep my Interpreting life and my Ben-Gal life separate for most of the season. I want to be respected in each of these fields separately for the example and skill I bring when being either an Interpreter or Ben-Gal. It wasn’t until the end of the year when many in the Deaf community realized I was a cheerleader and vice versa. I would say many of the cheerleaders started realizing more about sign language when seeing my video from interpreting music, which was after the season. I think any exposure to sign language and the Deaf community that is positive is effective. It’s impossible to expect everyone to learn ASL, but we can expect everyone to respect it as it’s own cultural-linguistic language.


I guess one impact to the community is from volunteer events. As a Ben-Gal a large part of our time is spent attending charity events. Most of these requests are through our three coaches, Charlotte, Traci, and Deanna. One event I attended was at North Pointe Elementary, as a Ben-Gal. I also volunteered once a week for 10 weeks teaching ASL to 5th graders. They knew I was a cheerleader from volunteering before and were excited to see their ASL Club instructor was also an NFL cheerleader. This would be one of the few examples of bridging those two worlds together.


Ted: Recently I saw you at the ASL OINK event at Fountain Square. During the event you signed Janet Jacksons “Nasty Boys.” The crowd loved it, both deaf and hearing. Do you find signing to music bridges the communication gap to a degree for the hearing and deaf?


Jessica: Deaf people are the same as any person that can hear. Some people love certain types of music, while other people don’t really care to listen to music. Some Deaf people love music, others prefer certain ways to interpret music (more conceptually expressed verses being more word-order), and some may choose not to follow music. Each group of culture is different and diverse within it’s group. I see Interpreting as being a form of equal access. Any time I’m interpreting whether it’s music or not is equal access. With that being said, it could be considered bridging a communication gap.


Interpreters don’t want to be seen as a saint or helper. We are there for both parties, the Deaf and the hearing.


Ted: I have learned there are many different types of signing interpreters. Do you have a specialty?


Jessica: I’ve been Interpreting for a little over 5 years and foresee myself continuing to grow as a professional. Majority of my work in Cincinnati is with post-secondary classes and business or government settings. I’m always interested in more performing arts work which includes music and I’m hoping to achieve legal certification to work in the courts in the near future.


Ted: As a professional ASL Interpreter, do you find most people understand what you do?


Jessica: I think people are more exposed to American Sign Language and know that under ADA, entities are required to provide Sign Language Interpreters as a form of access. As far as knowing how to work with an Interpreter, I think less people are familiar with the dynamics of a third party in the room whom you’re supposed to pretend is not there.


Ted: Do you see a general misconception of what an interpreter does and does that bleed over into a misunderstanding of the deaf community?


Jessica: I’m sure the Deaf community has many more stories than I will ever have about that “stupid hearing person” that just doesn’t get it. I think majority of people who have misconceptions have never been shown any other options. What an Interpreter says to anyone about their role and working as an ally for the Deaf community is crucial to how the Deaf community is perceived. A simple tip is when writing the word “deaf” with a capital letter or not shows more respect for the Deaf Community and how a person identifies. Someone who considers themselves to be culturally “Deaf” identifies with a capital D verses someone who considers themselves to be impaired or not a part of Deaf culture would identify as “deaf” with a lower case d.


Ted: Since I have become involved with the deaf community because of a class in Sign Language at St. Rita’s, it has been surprising to me the genuineness of the people. Have you found that to be true? If so, why is that?


Jessica: I have worked with some Deaf people who will be smarter than I will ever be. There are doctors and lawyers and some of the most reputable individuals who are Deaf.


Ted: When you think of the word disability, what comes to mind for you?


Jessica: Legalese, terminology that is coined by our government to provide access. We have to accept it and are thankful for the term, but have to accept the negative stigma that comes with the term.


Ted: Since I lost my voice due to extensive radiation around 4 years ago, I never did consider it a disability…. More of an inconvenience. What I have learned is there is more than one way to communicate. Do you think most deaf or hard of hearing folks consider themselves having a disability?


Jessica: Everyone is different and you would have to ask someone within the culture that question. As a non-Deaf person I would say that the word disability isn’t always accepted.


Ted: As a Ben-Gal Cheerleader, you are thrust out into the public often, if you feel like it or not. You are one of the “treasures” of the City of Cincinnati. Having the podium of the Bengals, do you see it as a way to make others aware of the deaf community and the dynamics of a deaf person on how “normal” they are?


Jessica: Wow, that’s a big responsibility. I use all the social media outlets and have Ben-Gal friends and Deaf and Interpreter friends who see my posts about both professions. I don’t plan on starting any non-profit agencies, but I do plan to always representing myself with the highest intentions.


Ted: You seem like a very happy person. Is there anything that can make you really mad?


Jessica: That would be a good question for my boyfriend. I really try to see the good in everyone and in everything. Turning all the stress and anxiety into recognizing the blessing in front of me. My biggest frustration is seeing a problem and not being able to fix it. I never want to complain without suggesting a solution. When there is a dead-end ahead, this would make anyone mad. (smile)


Ted: Many professions are “self” centered. People interact with others primarily to get something back for themselves. You have chosen a profession that reaches out to others so there is a clearer understanding what is being said or thought. What made you do that?


Jessica: I love working with people, with meeting new people and feeding off positive energy. I fell in love with the language and the culture and found out I could make it my career. I’m just happy that I was able to find a second language; I was able to pair working with incredible people along with a rich language that I love and respect. The clear understanding is a bonus if I do an effective job.


Ted: I always loved hearing a good story. Has anything happened while you have been interpreting that comes to mind you will always remember?


Jessica: I think the comparison of my first year as an Interpreter until now. When moving to DC for my internship I instantly was immersed in Deaf culture by starting graduate courses at Gallaudet University and becoming close to native ASL users. That support system has seen me go from being very shy, saying very little, and understanding very little to becoming much more comfortable with using my second language. Just having those people make comments about being a good Interpreter means more than anything.


Ted: You are an excellent dancer. Do you find yourself ever doing any interpreting dancing when you are by yourself or zoned out?


Jessica: There are different opinions on how to interpret music. Some Interpreters feel it is important to show the beat or rhythm in your body. The message of the song is the primary goal. As a person who can’t detach from the rhythm, it becomes a part of my interpretation. I feel that I’m in my zone when performing. I don’t typically get that zoned out feeling when alone. When I’m alone I’m practicing, I’m either practicing a routine for Ben-Gals or practicing sign choices for a song. The true moment of inspiration or being the zone comes when on stage interpreting music or on the field dancing with the Ben-Gals.


Ted: After watching you perform “Nasty Boy” it is apparent it is more than signing. You get into the song emotionally as well. So there are at least 4 elements you become, the music, the signing and the emotion of the song, and the dancing. When they all come together, I found it captivating to watch. Does it do that to you as a performer?


Jessica: I’m going to put on my teaching hat and say that there are so many layers to a person’s interpreting process. The four layers you mentioned are only a small part of all it takes to provide an interpretation or provide a music interpretation. I think you could compare it to being a performer as a Ben-Gal, however the layers would be a little different in both situations. (***don’t really like this answer, feels unfinished)


Ted: If you could leave some words of wisdom to those reading this interview, what would you say?


Jessica: If you ever have any questions about cheerleading, ask a cheerleader.


If you ever have any questions about deafness, ask a deaf person.

And always get a few perspectives before you make your own. There are good people out there, find them and celebrate our differences.



If you would like to write to Jessica, make a comment below and it will be forwarded to her. wants to thank Jessica for this interview and sharing her experiences.


4 Responses to

  1. Sarah Holcomb says:

    This article is so inspirational for many reasons. We all have a responsibility to understand and participate in the lives of those who face different challenges than we do. Easier said than done, but this article highlights an individual who clearly makes a priority out of giving back to her community. It is obvious that Jessica has more than enough to keep her busy, but she manages to set aside time to participate in the lives of the hearing impaired and share her joy and energy with them. This article will inspire me to look for ways to contribute to those who need support in my own community. Thank you Jessica and thank you Ted for the interview. Keep them coming!!

  2. Melia Ellis says:

    Jessica Howell is such an inspirational person. She was an instructor and mentor of mine when I attended college a couple years ago, here in Cincinnati. I remember clearly when she mentioned to me her goal to try out for the bengals cheer leading team. All I could think was wow, she is a woman of many talents; her parents must be proud. Jessica’s personality and kindness alone are admirable. Everything she does inspires me to be a better person. Good luck Jessica. You are beautiful in so many ways. Definetly a great role model in the community, and beyond I’m sure!

  3. sandy wright says:

    Jessica Thank you for your words of wisdom. I really enjoyed reading about your life decisions and motivations. Thank you for continuing to make a difference in our world. Love and best wishes Sandy

  4. Tennessee conservative says:

    Thank you Jessica for sharing so openly with Mr. Holcomb. As a young person I Am sure You will contribute a great deal with all that associate with you.

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