South Florida

Mistakes in Signing Emergencies Can Put Deaf Community at Risk

As Hurricane Irma intensified, thousands stood by for updates and mandatory evacuation orders. Most of us got the message loud and clear. But, one group was already in the dark and couldn’t speak up.

Instead of alerting the deaf community of an evacuation order in Manatee County, an interpreter signed words like pizza, monster and bear. Many in the deaf community were outraged, including Andrew Altman, who is an interpreter for Children of Deaf Adults.

“I’m sitting here looking at my interpreter who is giving me the message and then I’m seeing what’s being signed on there and there’s so much ambiguity and so much being missed. I feel sorry for deaf community who were dependent on that,” said Altman.

Altman stood as an interpreter as Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief held news conferences during Hurricane Irma.

“You have to realize that at that time, when that message was going out there people in the deaf community were at risk,” explained Altman.

As a native signer, he strives to deliver concise messages that reach the diverse languages and cultures of South Florida. Deaf individuals cannot hear tone or inflection.

“Facial expression and body movement is one of the ways we communicate that tone and feeling and without it the language is complete and the deaf community are not going to understand it,” said Altman.

To get the job done, it takes two. Brian Gauci is Altman’s hearing interpreter. Gauci receives the information auditorily.

“He has to listen to your questions for example and it’s important he’s hearing the questions and he relays that information directly to me,’ said Altman. “Without him there’s no way for me to know what you’re saying and then there’ no communication.”

It’s not just about what he’s signing. It’s also about what he’s wearing. This is very visual, so dark, rich colors make it better for folks at home to clearly see his signs and get the information that they need to know. Interpreters don’t wear stripes or anything busy that may distract the eyes.

“The deaf and hard of hearing members of the community are precious. They’re just as precious as the hearing community,” said Altman.

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