Signs of Success: A Phoenix College Alumna’s Journey to Interpreting Alongside Taylor Swift

Wednesday, August 30, 2023
Jillian Deaton, a Phoenix College alumna, is honored to be an ASL interpreter and a guest in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community
Jillian Deaton, an ASL interpreter stands in front of a Phoenix College sign on campus
Jillian Deaton and interpreting colleague Ginevra Deianni before night two of Taylor Swift’s “The Eras Tour” in Seattle, WA
Jillian Deaton with professor Kay Hilder in the Phoenix College ASL lab.
Jillian Deaton, a Phoenix College alum, interpreting during night one of Taylor Swift's "The Eras Tour"

Jillian Deaton had early exposure to the Deaf community thanks to her sister-in-law, who is an ASL interpreter, and her sister, who is Deaf. Also, when Jillian’s mother was in a bowling league - a team of Deaf bowlers played in the adjacent lane. Jillian remembers tagging along and taking a pad of paper and pencil to bowling practice, with the intention to try and connect with the Deaf players. 

She was immediately struck by her lack of ability to communicate with them and realized that learning ASL and associating with Deaf folks is what she wanted to do in life. In her junior and senior years of high school in Mesa, AZ, Jillian took her first sign language classes. 

Then, Jillian enrolled in Phoenix College’s (PC) American Sign Language (ASL), Deaf Studies and Interpreter Preparation Program. While studying at PC, Jillian went on a blind date. As she and David got to know each other, Jillian talked about her goals and that she was studying to be an interpreter.  When David said that he had a brother who is Deaf, she took it as a sign that they should have a second date as it meant a lot to her to have a partner who knew ASL and could understand and appreciate the Deaf community. 

Jillian grew up dancing competitively (ballet, pointe, jazz, contemporary, hip hop, tap, the whole gamut), she was a musician and even a child pageant queen. “I was the International Cinderella Miss as a 10-year-old; the scholarship monies I won paid for my interpreting education, which I'm so grateful for.” 

Jillian completed her ASL, Deaf Studies and Interpreter Preparation degree at Phoenix College, and transferred to Northern Arizona University (NAU).  “I had the most incredible teachers and I’m so grateful for my time at Phoenix College”, Jillian says. “PC made the transition to NAU so easy,” she added.  Thanks to the scholarships she received while attending PC and NAU, Jillian completed two degrees debt-free. 

Her first jobs after college were interpreting for the Gilbert Public Schools, and then for Mesa Public Schools. Eventually, Jillian took and passed the Board for Evaluation of Interpreters (BEI) certification exam.  The primary goal of the BEI certification program is to ensure that interpreters can comprehend, produce, and transform ASL to and from English in a meaningful and accurate manner.

Then, Jillian began working freelance, interpreting at concerts, plays, and festivals in Phoenix. After moving to Seattle, Jillian was asked to interpret larger acts, including Paul McCartney and the Broadway hit Hamilton. Jillian says the Hamilton work was the most intense experience of her professional life, and at times she felt overwhelmed by the pressure to accurately convey the story. 

She and the interpreting team spent hours learning the script and the intense catalog of music. “I have always connected well with music, movement, artistry, and being on a stage. I never wanted to become a professional dancer or musician, but I love that I am able to harness my previous experience and put it to use in my performance interpreting career,” Jillian said.  

This experience prepared Jillian for another collision of passions, when she was asked to interpret at Taylor Swift’s Seattle Eras Tour shows. 

“Interpreting for the Eras Tour was a blast. My team and I thoroughly enjoyed the hours we spent workshopping the songs together. It was such a treat to jam to Taylor nonstop and play with concepts, make them look visually appealing, match the tone of the song, analyze the lyrics, discuss the meaning of certain phrases, etc. We put so much heart into our prep and we hoped it would all be well-received and enjoyed by Taylor's Deaf and Hard of Hearing fans in our assigned section.

One aspect of the performance that I loved so much was how I could see the faces of the fans during the show. It was exciting to view their live feedback as I was interpreting, using their beautiful language to make Taylor's show accessible. I enjoyed witnessing their delight as an interpreted concept or phrase seemed to hit just right. It was a privilege to share that space with them and be entrusted with such an important and even sacred role as the interpreter those nights,” as Jillian told POPSUGAR’s Lena Felton. 

Jillian recently had the chance to come back to the Phoenix College campus while in Arizona visiting family and friends. Talking with ASL faculty member Kay Hilder, Jillian and Professor Hilder discussed how being such a “visible accommodation” is tricky. “We are visitors in their world,” Professor Hilder says. Jillian agreed, adding that she truly cherishes the population she serves. 

Jillian’s work at the Taylor Swift concerts went viral on social media, and she says “Although it is flattering and fun to receive accolades, it isn't the end goal of my job. My role is to be a conduit for communication between the Deaf and Hard of Hearing - and hearing parties. Further, my role is not to teach ASL, it is best to learn from a Deaf or Hard of Hearing educator whose native language is ASL. With this brief moment in the spotlight, I feel responsible to redirect the positive attention I've received and use my hearing privilege to continually advocate for accessibility. Deaf and Hard of Hearing fans should have every opportunity as their hearing peers to have access to their favorite artists and shows, with highly skilled interpreters and proximal seating within the line of sight, among other accommodations.” – again, as told to POPSUGAR’s Lena Felton.

Jillian now lives in New Jersey with her husband David (yes, she married the guy she met on the blind date) and their two children, and is a Director of Interpreting at Sorenson Communications, a global communication servicer for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people, where she oversees 170 interpreters. She also enjoys doing freelance interpreting work in nearby New York City.

“The Deaf and Hard of Hearing culture is so rich and unique, and I feel honored to be a guest in their community as an interpreter. This population has faced, and still faces, oppression in hearing-dominated society. Despite that, they are a resilient community with the most beautiful language, and I am so fortunate to work alongside them.”

A virtual information session will be hosted September 23, 1-2 pm about PC’s ASL, Deaf Studies and Interpreter Preparation Program.  Visit if you would like to learn more.