Meteorologist Gets Popular After Using American Sign Language in Her Forecasts
Oklahoma meteorologist Mikayla Smith is making TV weather forecasting more accessible to a wider audience and in the process is rousing interest in meteorology for the next generation of forecasters. Mikayla initiated “Signing Science with Smith,” a program that makes use of American Sign Language (ASL) to describe current weather conditions and give predictions for upcoming weather events, along with bits of information on science. She began the program while forecasting in the Sherman, Texas area. She uses ASL to sign everything she says during her broadcasts, and now offers “Signing Science with Smith” as a member of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s FOX23 Severe Weather Team, which she joined in April of 2022.
Mikayla’s Passion for American Sign Language Began Early in Life
A member of the University of Oklahoma’s class of 2022, she received a Bachelor of Science degree in meteorology with double minors in broadcast journalism and mathematics. Mikayla was born and raised in the town of Rockwall, Texas, 30 minutes east of Dallas. She got her introduction to American Sign Language as a young girl in Rockwall when her mother took special education courses in college and worked as a special education teacher.
At that time, her mother inspired Mikayla to start learning sign language. She then began studying ASL while in the seventh grade and continued her ASL studies through her senior year in high school. She says the experience changed her life.
Her Study of American Sign Language Made Her Sympathetic to D/HoH People’s Plight
Mikayla also says that she has long felt empathy for Deaf and hard-of-hearing (D/HoH) people, and as a meteorologist, she’s already advocating for positive change in that community. Through her years of learning ASL, she has become aware of the challenges that Deaf and hard of hearing individuals face in trying to stay informed of breaking news and current weather conditions. And even though closed captioning may be helpful for this purpose, it’s often unavailable or imprecise, particularly when using a smart phone.
Thus, since phones and social media frequently lack adequate closed captions or any closed captions at all, she felt the call to begin presenting the weather in American Sign Language and to incorporate signing into all of her work on TV. Mikayla is passionate about employing ASL to convey local weather events to the D/HoH population. As a devoted supporter of the Deaf and hard of hearing, she continually seeks new ways to learn and grow as a meteorologist and a signer in order to be the best ally she can be for the community.
Mikayla Has Become an Overnight Internet Sensation
Videos of Mikayla’s weather forecasts have quickly gone viral and she’s overwhelmed by the positive response they’ve received. She says she’s happy to see the videos’ constructive impact and hopes that her signing of weather forecasts will inspire others to learn sign language as well so that the language’s global impact will grow. In fact, since the start of her unique series of American Sign Language weather forecasts, countless meteorologists have contacted Mikayla, asking her to point them in the right direction to begin the process of learning ASL.
Thus, as more and more weather forecasters and others in the news media learn how to sign their own reports, they can communicate better with the Deaf and hard of hearing and generate a trend of greater inclusiveness for those with different communication needs in the world of information gathering and distribution.
Mikayla’s Reaction to Her Popularity is One of Amazement
Regarding the huge positive response to her signed weather forecasts, Mikayla says, “I was expecting, maybe, you know, a couple of likes and shares, and I was absolutely blown away.” Mikayla also says she’s happy to see the strong impact her signed forecasts have had on the public. She’s optimistic that the new signing movement will start to spread, thus helping special communities that may not normally be able to receive news and weather reports on a regular basis get the information they need.
Mikayla’s Efforts can be of Great Benefit to the Hearing Impaired
Thanks to the internet, smart phones, and other devices available in today’s high-tech society, current weather conditions, breaking news reports, and a host of other forms of information are at most people’s fingertips. While it’s easy for the general public to use their phones, the web, and social media to find and disseminate information, many these platforms lack dependable closed captioning services for people in the deaf community and those who may be hard of hearing.
Based on data from the National Institute on Deafness and Communication Disorders, one in eight people in the United States 12 years of age or older, or approximately 30 million members of the population, have some level of hearing loss in both ears, as determined by standard hearing exams.
Mikayla Answers the Call to Duty
Mikayla acknowledged this fact and decided that she wanted to help those in need. As a result, she started “Signing Science with Smith,” where her weather updates include tidbits of scientific data, all of which are accessible to both the hearing and Deaf populations alike. As Mikayla says on her Facebook page, “The hard-of-hearing community has a special place in my heart. With social media often lacking closed captions or accurate captions, I felt the need to start talking weather in ASL. A little rusty but it felt good to get back! So here is my newest endeavor, Signing Science with Smith!”
After recognizing the situation with closed-captioning for the Deaf and hard of hearing, Mikayla had a revelation. “That was really where it hit it for me,” she says. “I want people to be able to be on their phone, getting their news like everybody else and being able to still understand what’s going on in the community around them.”
“ASL is a beautiful language,” she adds. “It’s a great language to learn. It really changed my life when I started to learn it.” And Mikalya encourages others to learn sign language, especially weather forecasters: “You never know when you might be in the situation, and just having a little knowledge can go such a long way with clear communication.”
The Deaf Community Responds to Mikayla’s ASL Weather Forecasts
Although many people have applauded Mikayla’s efforts to provide the D/HoH community with greater access to information and inclusion in society, some have expressed concern that her signing is not always completely accurate in conveying the intended message. Thus, they encourage her to work with a Deaf mentor to continue to learn sign language and become more fluent.
Since information that affects the safety and well-being of Deaf and hard of hearing viewers needs to be presented accurately by someone fully conversant with ASL to avoid confusion, Mikayla has been urged to continue learning to develop her skills further. As one viewer of her forecasts wrote, “Then, when you are truly ready, you can exercise your heart of service, which is evident here.”
Another viewer who is fluent in ASL wrote that although what Mikayla is doing “is great,” she’s using ASL signs to convey information but is not using the syntax of ASL. Despite this fact, Deaf people will probably understand most of her weather forecasts anyway. The viewer concludes, “I applaud her willingness to communicate with the Deaf community. We need more of that.”
In response to the need to improve her ASL skills, Mikayla says she’s a little out of practice with her signing but is making sure to do the research needed to become a better D/HoH ally, and in the interim she’s making enormous strides toward greater accessibility to news and weather for all. This process includes urging others, especially her meteorologist colleagues, to learn some sign language as well.