WXMI — Last Tuesday, Texas meteorologist Mikayla Smith was prepping for the arrival of severe winter weather in Oklahoma. Smith holds on-air responsibilities in two states – while she wraps up her degree, she’s a student broadcaster for Oklahoma University, pre-recording her forecasts from her KXII-TV studio, the Sherman, Texas based station where she works.
Knowing the importance of alerting viewers – all viewers – in Oklahoma, Smith did something unconventional. During her pre-taped segment for OU Nightly, the university’s student-run newscast, Smith conducted her weathercast in American Sign Language.
Smith posted her weathercast online and the show aired at 4 p.m.
By 5 p.m., when the broadcast ended, Smith’s phone was glowing with notifications. Her video had gone viral.
“I’m happy that I did it, I never thought that it would blow up like it did, that’s shocking to me,” she said, speaking to FOX17 via Zoom on Tuesday. “I’m glad that it did because I think there needs to be more awareness.”
Smith isn’t deaf or hard of hearing but has family friends and even relatives that are. She started taking ASL classes in 7th grade and continued for six years through high school. It’s something she’s passionate about and something she knows needs more exposure.
“It’s important to me and I just think it should be continued to be brought up just because the deaf and hard of hearing community are so underserved,” she said. “It was just something that I was passionate about and still am passionate about and have a connection to. So, I just figured out a way to try to combine my passions.”
“Probably the biggest thing is that it helps to normalize it,” said Misti Ryefield, a certified ASL interpreter and a professor of sign language at Grand Valley State University. “And really beneficial for the segment of the deaf population that uses sign language who may not benefit from closed captioning. Along with the fact that a lot of times the live reports like that aren’t captioned anyways.”
Ryefield says often times, the resources deaf and hard of hearing people need aren’t available, or are expensive.
“Every time it’s brought up as a service request or a service need, it becomes ‘well, prove to me why you need it,’” she said. “Whereas if you can get it so that it’s more normalized, it just makes sense. It’s part of the everyday thing that we do.”
For deaf and hard of hearing services in the West Michigan area, visit the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services’ website by clicking here.