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Franklin-based firm gives the deaf a hearing

March 4, 2007
Home News Tribune Online 03/4/07

By Carmen Cusido, Staff Writer

FRANKLIN — Kathy Kady-Hopkins, a small business owner, has learned to “take lemons and make them into lemonade.”


Kady-Hopkins, who has been hard of hearing since she was a toddler, decided she wanted to help the deaf community.

“Instead of being sad and torn up about it, I turned it around and make a difference,” said Kady-Hopkins.

She and her mother, Christine Sherwood, are the owners of ASL Interpreter Referral Service Inc., a company that provides interpreters for those who are deaf, deaf and blind, or hard of hearing 24 hours a day.

“We get calls in the middle of the night. We’re famous for waking people up,” Sherwood said.

For many years prior to starting her business, Kady-Hopkins worked at AT&T, managing an in-house interpreter service for the company’s deaf employees nationwide. According to her biography, she also sold telecommunications products for deaf, hard of hearing, and other people with disabilities while at AT&T.

In 1995, after Kady-Hopkins left AT&T, she approached her mother to go into business with her.

“I knew it would be successful, but knew it would be a lot of work,” said Sherwood, who prior to serving as vice-president and co-owner of ASL was president and owner of Aura Associates, a training company specializing in management skills.

Sherwood had some experience with the deaf community, she grew up with a deaf brother and sister.

“God prepared me by giving me a daughter who was hard to hearing,” Sherwood said.

They named the company ASL — for American Sign Language.

In 1996, shortly after they started their business, ASL was asked to provide an interpreter for a Bob Dole campaign stop in Somerville during his run for president that year.

In the first few years of their business, they operated out of their New Brunswick homes, but have grown to their office at 21 Clyde Road.

Last year, the women started building profiles of the deaf community to meet the communication needs of their clients.

They had their clients fill out a form and include their language preference, such as American Sign Language and Pidgin Sign Language.

“We are trying to branch out to other services to meet the market,” said Kady-Hopkins. Added Sherwood: “We’re asking for feedback as to a person’s needs.”

Aside from providing interpreters, ASL offers sensitivity training, RTT- or “Real-Time Transcription,” a remote transcription service they started last year that is designed for classroom settings, and tactile interpreting. They are looking into video services for the near future.

They have nine full-time employees, including one who is deaf, and other family members, including sister Kim and Rich Sherwood, Kady-Hopkins’ step dad. They also have more than 200 freelance interpreters that service about 1,300 clients in the tri-state area.

Interpreters are trained in American Sign Language, Pidgin Sign Language, Manual Coded English and Signed Exact English. They also have interpreters who understand clients whose primary languages are Spanish, Portuguese and Russian, and an interpreter who knows Romanian Sign Language, both said.

Aside from teaching a sign language class at Rutgers University, Kady-Hopkins also volunteers for her parish, St. Peter The Apostle R.C. Church in New Brunswick, and helped bring weekend interpreters for deaf parishioners there. About 10 years ago, she also started a social club in North Brunswick for the local deaf community. The group has 138 members.

“Beside turning your lemons into lemonades. I also want people to stop feeling sorry for themselves but to make a difference by empowering others,” Kady-Hopkins said.

Kady-Hopkins’ husband of 18 years, Paul, is deaf. They have a daughter, Kristina, 12, who is not deaf or hard of hearing, but has been taught sign language.

MARK R. SULLIVAN/Chief photographer

Kathy Kady-Hopkin, president of Interpreter Referral Service in Franklin, shows her skills during an interview. Interpreter Referral Service provides interpreters for individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing or deaf and blind.


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