'Fastest signer in the west' passionate about her work

Published: May. 24, 2020 at 2:17 PM CDT
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Gov. Doug Burgum has held 51 press briefings since the coronavirus first started affecting North Dakota. Lindsey Solberg Herbel has been by the governor’s side for all but a handful of those, using her hands to share the governor’s message with the state’s hearing impaired.

"Lindsey, the fastest signer in the west," said Gov. Doug Burgum at one of his daily briefings.

Lindsey Solberg Herbel has become famous for her role at these coronavirus press briefings.

"It’s been really weird," she admits

Solberg Herbel found herself in the spotlight when she first stood beside Burgum at his March 15 coronavirus briefing.

"I showed up not knowing exactly what was going to happen," says Solberg Herbel.

It was the first time an interpreter had been asked to help at a press conference. Solberg Herbel never dreamed her work would propel her to celebrity status.

"People do recognize me, and they stare," she says.

She has even become the subject of internet memes

"It is one of the strangest things," she says with a smile and a shrug.

For Solberg Herbel, it’s all in a day’s work

"It’s our job, that’s how we’ve looked at it. The attention is difficult. We don’t really like the spotlight. We really just want to provide that access so the deaf people in the state understand the information and can get the information," says Solberg Herbel. "It can be stressful. People ask if our hands get tired, it’s our brains.

Solberg Herbel watches every press conference to critique her work.

"I make mistakes and that’s the only way you get better. Interpreting is a practiced profession. We've had a lot of practice this year!"

Solberg Herbel has been an interpreter for 22 years. But sign language has always been a part of her life.

"When I was little, our babysitter was deaf. My mom worked with a deaf woman, so she took some classes. I went with her and learned some," says Solberg Herbel.

Her passion led her to her job as a certified interpreter for the North Dakota School for the Deaf.

"We interpret for people in the community," she explains when asked about her job.

These days, much of her work is done in this room at the capitol. For Solberg Herbel, it’s a chance to provide a service and raise awareness.

"We really just want to do a really good job and make sure the deaf community has the best information. The fame part is kind of strange," Solberg Herbel says.

Solberg Herbel says many people have asked why she always wears black for the press briefings. She says there’s a good reason behind her wardrobe choices: wearing a dark color, like black, provides contrast and makes it easier for people to see her hands.

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