The Pandemic Year

The last fiscal year was largely shaped by the pandemic, an experience the world has shared and one that continues to have an impact on all of us.

In February 2020, months into a year where we had been setting records for hours of service and program delivery, our management team gathered for conversations about preparing for a worst-case scenario even when it was hard to believe it was even a possibility. Then, March 2020 came, and what had been just-in-case planning became the reality of our day-to-day lives. Fortunately, we were ready for the many changes, large and small, that would come. When the world seemed to “shut down,” we had made all the necessary provisions for transitioning to remote work without interrupting our programs and services.

Equal access took on a new urgency and role on the world stage.

From tornadoes to the pandemic to Christmas morning bombings, we stepped up to ensure equal access for our D/deaf, Deaf-Blind, and hard of hearing communities. Working with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, multiple county health departments, the Tennessee Department of Health, Mayor Cooper, Mayor Harris, and Mayor Strickland, we provided qualified ASL interpreters to ensure our community had equal access to critical and life-saving information.

Around the clock, we monitored news stations and worked with reporters and news directors to ensure interpreters stayed in frame at all times. We advocated for closed captioning for streaming press briefings and posted transcripts for our Deaf-Blind community.

We educated the public about necessity of masks that were barriers to our communication. We solicited volunteers and sponsors to make and provide thousands of clear masks that protected us while allowing full access. Our interpreters continued to walk into hospitals and clinics, even when the diagnosis was COVID-19, because all people deserve equal access and effective communication.

We produced timely, factual signed/voiced/captioned videos with critical information about COVID-19 and the vaccines and hosted a very special COVID-19 Conversation with Dr. Kiepp Talbot, a member of the CDC's Vaccine Advisory Committee. We created and distributed a COVID-19 Communication Card. We successfully advocated for the inclusion of ASL interpreters in the first round of vaccines made available. 

We hosted a statewide Community Meeting on Access in Tennessee Hospitals and are working with the Department of Justice, Middle District of Tennessee, to develop standardized equal access accommodations policies for our D/deaf, Deaf-Blind, and hard of hearing communities. 

We advocated for the use of ASL interpreters--on stage and visible on television--at all presidential campaign events and debates. 

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We made the decision and commitment to be a light for our community during the darkest of hours. We simply decided never to stop, not to pull back, not to scale back when our community needed us most.

In the early months of the pandemic, our interpreting services also stopped. For a time, we went from providing almost a thousand (1,000) hours of interpreting services a week to about fifty (50) hours a month. In addition to the equal access those hours give to our community, interpreting revenues are also over two-thirds of our annual budget, paying for large chunks of the wide range of free programs and services we offer from birth through elder years. We felt their loss dearly, and we faced the difficult choices so many people and businesses did.

Our community always comes first, even when that means adopting a budget that projected using $300,000 of reserves to make sure that we didn’t cut a single service. That kind of decision requires faith, passion, and courage. As a result, BridgesTN, our Middle Tennessee operation, and BridgesWEST, our southwest Tennessee operation, both serving into border states, never missed a day of service. All our programs and services transitioned into virtual space and continued, through innovation and sheer determination, to grow. Our reach to those in our community who live in rural areas only expanded, and as you see in the outcomes, videos, and photos shared in this report, we had an amazing year of service.

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The community that surrounds us stepped up with love, support, encouragement, and gifts.

Our funders demonstrated their faith in and commitment to us by allowing us to remove restrictions so that we could leverage every dollar to our greatest needs. All of you in our broader community stepped up to support us through your gifts, small and large. We seized special, one-time opportunities through the CARES Act and used those funds to ensure every call for help was answered and that our community remained connected, housed, fed, and supported. In every moment and in every way, we bore witness to the power of relationships and how important our work is to you and to those we serve.

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We’re still learning the “new normal.”

Even as we embrace this “new normal,” we see numbers of cases infections and hospitalizations rising again, and we remember one of the lessons learned during the pandemic. No one knows the future. We focus on the services we provide and the relationships we have today, knowing they will sustain us and those who need us most, because the pandemic has taught us another important lesson. There is nothing we cannot do when we put our community first.  

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