Hands Up Communications connects deaf with hearing world

"In a single day, I could be in a college classroom in the morning, a factory in the afternoon ...."

Sue Tyrrell co-owner of Hands Up Communications, “signs” the action of a baseball game for a man who is blind and deaf a
Sue Tyrrell co-owner of Hands Up Communications, “signs” the action of a baseball game for a man who is blind and deaf at Veterans Memorial Stadium on Saturday. (Nikole Hanna/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — To prepare for playing football during his freshman year of high school, D.J. Meyer wanted to attend former Iowa Hawkeye and NFL wide receiver Tim Dwight’s annual football camp.

"I signed up and everything was good except for one flaw," said Meyer, who is deaf. "No interpreter."

Meyer's parents were not willing to accept the potential roadblock. They contacted Sue Tyrrell, co-owner of Hands Up Communications in Cedar Rapids, an agency that provides on-site and video remote interpreting services for the deaf.

"I was able to rearrange my schedule for that week as well as finding other interpreters who were willing to interpret for D.J.," Tyrrell said. "Without an interpreter, he would not have been able to take advantage of what the coaches were telling the other players."

Tyrrell formed Hands Up Communications with Chet Smith after a chance meeting in 2009 when her plane was diverted to a Chicago airport.

"Through a conversation with him, while in Chicago for less than nine hours, we found that we both had an interest in the same business market and plans," said Tyrrell, a certified professional interpreter.

They incorporated Hands Up in January 2010.

Tyrrell said the name of the company is derived from two concepts: hands up and ready to sign American Sign Language (ASL) and the Biblical raising of holy hands in faith and love.

"I starting interpreting in church, which is my first love, and from there it became a profession," she said. "As an American Sign Language interpreter, I am rewarded daily with a new perspective of the diverse world around me and have the privilege to convey intents, emotions, ideas and thoughts between individuals.

"In a single day, I could be in a college classroom in the morning, a factory in the afternoon, and interpreting for the birth of a child in the wee hours of the morning."

Hands Up, 1019 First Ave. SW, employs a staff of trained, certified interpreters as well as having access to interpreters who work on contract either exclusively for the agency or other agencies. Interpreting services can be arranged by appointment, although Tyrrell said the agency can dispatch an interpreter to a hospital or doctor's office within minutes if needed.

While interpreting for the deaf and hearing-impaired typically is done face to face, video remote interpreting is becoming more prevalent with advances in technology, according to David Theobald, director of education at Hands Up.

"Clients watch a computer to see the interpreter signing for them rather than seeing someone in the room for them," Theobald said.

"We also offer transcription service that provides a written account of what is being spoken. It's a real-time situation where a student in a classroom is able to understand what the teacher is saying and keep that text for later use."

Theobald said the person doing the interpreting does not have to be physically present. As long as they can hear the person speaking through an Internet link, they can be in another room or even another state.

"Technology is dramatically changing our market," he said. "In the past, technology was always made for the hearing world. It was not easily accessed by the deaf or hearing impaired.

"Today, when Apple tests any new product, it always invites a deaf testing group to see if it will work for them. That's why an iPad has front and rear cameras because it can be used for remote video interpreting."

Interpreting services often are passed up due to cost, with organizations choosing to have someone who has taken no more than an ASL class to handle the translation. Theobald said that typically gives the deaf or hearing-impaired access to only a portion of what is said.

"People don't realize how much is lost," he said. "If you only spoke to people who know 10 words, how much of a link would you have?

"For a deaf or hearing-impaired person, interpreting is really a matter of life or death regardless of the setting. Having a professional interpreter at a Girl Scout meeting is important because that's where they learn morality, citizenship and respect.

"Everyone of their experiences help make up a young person's life. If it costs $80 to have an interpreter at that meeting, I don't know of any parent who would not be willing to spend the money."

Tyrrell and Theobald said there are ways to mitigate the cost if it truly is a barrier.

"We don't feel any deaf or hearing-impaired person should have to settle for less than those who are able to hear," she said.More information is available on Hands Up Communications at

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.