The Governor’s Messenger
Michael Albert, ’87 LAS, has become a reluctant celebrity, thanks to his work as a sign language interpreter at Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s daily coronavirus briefings.
He’s been interviewed by print, broadcast and social media, with some comparing his appearance to actors Daniel Stern and Dustin Diamond.
“None of this is the typical realm of sign language interpreters,” Albert says, calling his fame “surprising, complicated, embarrassing and uncomfortable.”
Since 1998, Albert has worked full-time for the Chicago Hearing Society (chicagohearingsociety.org), which provides sign language interpretation.
When Pritzker’s office asked CHS for interpreting services at early coronavirus press conferences, “I happened to be available for the first few,” Albert recalls. “Once they became daily, I continued on, and the press conferences became longer, more complex, more scientific and more statistical.”
Albert generally covers the governor’s Chicago press conferences, with others handling those in Springfield. He sometimes signs at Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s press conferences as well.
When rioting broke out in Chicago in response to George Floyd’s death, and police shut down Lake Shore Drive, Albert found his route from his Edgewater home to emergency press conferences downtown compromised. But the police officers manning the barricade at Bryn Mawr Avenue allowed him to use the Drive “because they recognized me from TV,” he says.
A psychology major at Illinois, Albert took his first ASL class because he needed an elective during his last semester.
“I thought it would be fun, and a friend and I mused that it would help us talk in bars over the noise,” Albert recalls.
After graduation, he relocated to Washington, D.C., working for the Human Rights Campaign and moving in with two students at Gallaudet University, where all undergrads are Deaf. At the time, students were fighting for Gallaudet to hire a Deaf president; knowing sign language, Albert became involved and helped them. “It was kind of like the Stonewall riots for the Deaf community,” he says. “It changed my life.”