Special Report: Silent Need

"It’s a very large need. The state of Michigan has a huge need. There are not enough interpreters."

They’re called interpreters, but really they’re so much more.

They are an ear, a translator and a voice for the deaf.

And there are simply not enough of them.

Today we meet Tom Hoxsie. He has a very special reason for getting into this line of work. 

He travels the state interpreting and advocating for the deaf community.

Corey Adkins and Michelle Dunaway bring us his story in this Special Report: Silent Need.

It’s something many of us take for granted everyday but, for some, silence is reality.

Tom Hoxsie grew up in a home with deaf parents. His aunt, uncle and cousins are also deaf. He is not.

“To me, it was just my childhood, but as I grew up and went to school and met other people, I quickly realized that my childhood was a little different,” says Tom.

You may recognize Tom as one of The Overtones. Music has become part of who he is. It was something his parents didn’t understand.

“It was very difficult for my parents to wrap their heads around why music, and why would you want to be a singer, and why would you want to do those things when we can’t really be a part of that,” explains Tom.

Through trial and tribulation growing up in a deaf environment, Tom made a decision and got an education.

“I work with our deaf and hard of hearing community. When I realized that I wanted to do that, there were a couple of stages of my life that led me closer and closer to that field. Initially, it was the rage that I felt when people made horrible comments about my parents being deaf and that being associated with them being dumb, and here I had this brilliant father and brilliant mother,” says Tom.

He is one of the only voices for many in the deaf community across Northern Michigan.

“I work for an agency that primarily provides interpreting services, but aside from those services for Northern Michigan and the U.P., I provide advocacy and support services for our deaf community,” explains Tom.

Brenda Boaz-Pomb has been deaf her whole life.

“I have to read lips, face-to-face. One-on-one is better, but with a group of people I get lost because everybody is talking at the same time, and I’m like whoa! But one-on-one is good. That’s why I have an interrupter here,” says Brenda.

Tom is often Brenda’s ears.

“You have different meanings of spoken language that I can’t capture,” says Brenda.

He is also her emotion.

“When I look at a client and I see their facial expression, I’m able to put voice to that,” explains Tom.

So if a client is happy, sad or mad, it’s his job to make sure that’s not lost in the conversation.

“My personal feeling mean nothing in that situation. I’m never a part of any of those conversations. I’m simply rendering the best possible message back and forth,” says Tom.

“Sometimes the interrupter has to emphasize ‘this is what you need to do’,” explains Brenda.

Showing emotion is crucial for things like doctor visits, financial decisions and even job interviews.

“If I go to the doctor’s place the first time I might ask for an interpreter. They can use classifiers. They can describe by using their hands in 3D. I can see that way better,” explains Brenda.

It’s people’s lives, their ears, their communication. There aren’t many things more important. 

“I truly love it, but part of it is being raised in the deaf community is a big part of who I am. I view it as I’m providing services for my family, and, I think, when people approach it that way they care a little bit more,” says Tom.