Tag Archives: sign language interpreter

Interpreting for Hurricane Matthew to Avoid Repeating Hurricane Andrew’s Deaf Community Disaster

When it was over sea, Hurricane Matthew was a Category 5 hurricane, with the potential to do as much damage as the Category 5 Hurricane Andrew that hit Florida in 1992 with 165 mph winds–and needlessly took Deaf lives.

Picture of a swirling hurricane in the ocean heading toward Florida.
Hurricane Andrew before it took an unexpected turn and struck South Florida. Only one TV station agreed to have an interpreter inform the Deaf Community of the unexpected change–a difference that may have cost Deaf lives. photo credit: Key West Wedding Photography Remembering Hurricane Andrew – 1992 via photopin (license)

Andrew took 65 people’s lives and warnings from local news stations warned that Hurricane Matthew was as serious a threat to the Eastern U.S. coastline.

For the Florida Deaf community, reporting and interpreting about Hurricane Matthew was a time for news stations to redeem themselves and not fail them as they had during Hurricane Andrew, when the Deaf community relied on reports from only one TV station that would accept and interpreter–and no captions at all.

For Hurricane Matthew, not only did news stations use interpreters for Hurricane news along the East Coast, many used Certified Deaf Interpreters too, bringing praise and surprise.

Hurricane Matthew–A Big Difference

Hurricane over the ocean near Florida.
Hurricane Matthew over the Bahamas. Wikipedia reported the hurricane caused 1,027 fatalities. This time, the media took a better approach at informing the Deaf community. photo credit: Official U.S. Navy Imagery Hurricane Matthew pass over the Bahamas. via photopin (license)

In 2016, with Hurricane Matthew, things started differently than they did during Hurricane Andrew.

For Hurricane Matthew, the Federal Communications Commission was available 24 hours a day, assisting with emergency communication providers.

The State reports that South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley set the stage for public officials sharing communications with the Deaf Community, by providing a nationally Certified Deaf Interpreter, Jason Hurdich.

One viewer posted, “The sign language interpreter is the best part of Nikki Haley’s press conference. His facial expressions are 🔥🔥🔥.”

Channel 10 of the Miami area, once again a champion for Deaf communications during hurricanes, broadcasted interpreted news, this time with Miami Mayor Carlos Gimenez. A graphic artist found the sign language interpreter so fascinating that she shared his video on her website.

Gym with hundreds of people laying on the floor in sleeping bags.
This U.S. Navy image shows preparation in a shelter in Cuba before Hurricane Matthew hit the island. Without proper communication, Deaf community members wouldn’t have known the shelter was available. photo credit: Official U.S. Navy Imagery Service members attached to Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay take shelter inside Denich Gym before Hurricane Matthew hits Naval Station Guantanamo Bay. via photopin (license)

On their Facebook page, Pasco County Schools of Land O’ Lakes, Florida, provided a sign language interpreter, and added Hurricane Matthew emergency communications in Spanish.

The Broward County Emergency Operations Center of South Florida used a Deaf interpreter, with a hearing interpreter signing for him.

The Miami Herald reported that the Deaf interpreter, because American Sign Language is his native language, added more meaning for audience members who are Deaf.

“I process it and put it into an art form or language that is clear to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community,” interpreter Andrew Altmann said. “It’s like a puzzle and I have to put all the pieces together and present it to our community.”

The mayor’s Facebook Fan Kim Black said, “Marty, thank you for publicly supporting the interpreter! You always go above & beyond to support those who work behind the scenes. The Deaf and Hard of Hearing community is fortunate to have leaders like you. You’re a very special person. Stay safe through the storm.

West Palm Beach, Florida’s WPTV, introduced their interpreter on the channel’s website, saying she would interpret for their viewers who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing.

There was a time though, that the Deaf community fended for itself with no information–and Deaf people died.

Hurricane Andrew: a Deaf Catastrophe

In 1992, before Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida, no one was certain if the storm would strike South Florida. To make matters worse, there had been a few hurricane scares earlier that year and nothing had happened.

According to “Lessons from Hurricane Andrew” by Rick Eyerdam, in the 1990’s, news stations used a “crawler,” which provided a written message at the bottom of the screen to inform people with deafness or hearing loss what was happening and what to do when closed captioning and interpreters weren’t signing.

According to the a Deaf services agency representing 30,000 clients then, when the news stations changed the Hurricane Watch to a Hurricane Warning, they stopped using a crawler.

Female news broadcaster with image of Hurricane Matthew in the background.
As pictured, this news broadcast wouldn’t make any sense to the Deaf community. No interpreter for those who use ASL. No captions for those who are Hard of Hearing. The Deaf and Hard of Hearing community needs visual communication. photo credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video NASA’s 3D view shows Hurricane Matthew’s intensity via photopin (license)

There were no captions, no crawler, no interpreters.

The equivalent for a hearing person is a TV that is turned off and no radio communications. Nothing.

The South Florida Deaf community had no idea the hurricane now had the highest probability of striking the area where they lived.

When the Hurricane Andrew Warnings were issued to the hearing population, most people went to the stores to buy food and water.

During hurricanes, water supplies can be contaminated, so the stores sold out. Home Depot ran out of generators, since many feared the 90+ degree heat with no air conditioning or power. Stores ran out of wood panels and duct tape to cover windows and keep them from shattering inside their homes.

Everyone went except the Deaf community, which didn’t know because local news stations, according to Tyrone Kennedy, stopped using the crawler to provide words at the bottom of the screen, because emergency messages were long and difficult to reduce to writing.

“Once it changed from the watch to warning, we lost it all. The deaf population had no knowledge of what was going on. They missed out completely,” Kennedy said.

When the Hurricane Warning was issued, Kennedy and Deaf Services called the National Hurricane Center to offer interpreters for hurricane announcements.

He never got called back.

The television stations refused interpreters. Finally, one television station, Channel 10, agreed to have an interpreter on the news.

“By the time those people who would have relied on this information, if it came sooner, found (the station and got the information) by then it was too late. The stores were all empty. There were no supplies left,” Kennedy said.

They also didn’t have enough time to properly evacuate to a Florida city higher north.

After the storm, they couldn’t contact people who were Deaf by phone, since TTYs needed electricity. Fortunately, they forwarded all calls to one apartment with electricity and sent out volunteers with replacement batteries for their TTYs.

After Hurricane Andrew, according to the report, “the deaf community has discussed the effectiveness of closed captioning in the emergency environment and is now recommended all messages be sent in open captioning…”

According to “Deaf People and Hurricanes,” by Elizabeth Sadler, several Deaf Floridians died during Hurricane Andrew.

While it’s too late for those who lost their lives during Hurricane Andrew, at least the Deaf Community received greater emergency communications and acceptance, far beyond anything they dreamed of long ago in 1992.

Learn Sign Language for Hurricane

Broward County’s emergency interpreter, Andrew Altmann, demonstrates how to sign “hurricane.”

 

 

 

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Who Ensures Deaf/Hard of Hearing Voting Access during Caucuses?

Disability advocates are working to ensure that people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing can participate in the selection of presidential candidates for their political parties during the Iowa caucuses.

What’s a caucus?

Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins helmets on display in a football stadium.
Think of a caucus as playoffs leading to the teams that will play the Super Bowl-our one Democratic and Republican candidate for the presidential elections. photo credit: houston texans vs. miami dolphins via photopin (license)

According to LifeHacker, “Before a presidential candidate can be on the ballot for the general election, they have to win the approval and backing of their political party. Think of the caucuses and primaries as the NFL playoffs—with candidates dropping out after each round of voting—and the general election this fall is like the Super Bowl where (usually) two candidates go head to head…”

According to a report from RespectAbility, five people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing have requested ASL and CART, or Communication Access Real-time Translation, to participate in the Iowa caucuses, when “Iowans will publicly pledge their support to one of the Democratic or Republican candidates and by the end of the evening, each county will have a winner.”

Because the caucuses selecting political party candidates aren’t government run, but are run by the state’s political parties, they don’t follow traditional election procedures to ensure voting access. Some caucuses are held in churches or individuals’ homes, complicating accessibility, according to the report.

Jane Hudson of Disability Rights Iowa, has helped empower Iowans of all abilities to participate in candidate selection through the caucuses, according to the report. Hudson has had conversations with the Democratic and Republican parties and helped secure ASL and CART for the five people requesting it.

ASL open mic, cross through picture of microphone and shows sign language instead
Having sign language interpreters at events ensures greater access for people who are Deaf to have their hands heard. photo credit: Poetic Vision via photopin (license)
The nonprofit organization is “part of a national network of protection and advocacy systems established in the 1970s by the U.S. Congress to respond to repeated abuse and neglect of individuals with disabilities in large institutions.”

According to RespectAbility report, “While there was discussion on who should pay for this [ASL and CART], the Iowa Democratic and Republican parties are footing the bill.”

Having CART at events ensures that people with hearing loss have another option. photo credit: CART captioning via photopin (license)
Having CART at events ensures that people with hearing loss have another option. photo credit: CART captioning via photopin (license)
The Iowa caucus will occur on Monday, Feb. 1, starting at 7 p.m. Central Time and lasting two or three hours. Results will be posted here.
Texas will not have caucuses, as it has had in the past, but will have a primary when voters determine which candidates gain their vote.
The Texas primary is on March 1 from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Early voting begins on Tuesday, Feb. 16 and ends on Friday, Feb. 26.
 

 

10 Tips for Including People With Disabilities in Your Party 

Have you ever been left out of or not invited to a party? I hope not.

This happens to many people during the holidays, especially if their needs aren’t met and they can’t participate in part or all of events. Accommodating people with disabilities isn’t as difficult as people think.

The Two-Step Party Aid

When preparing to include people with disabilities in a celebration or party, planners should Seek and Ask.

Party invitation
Have you posted invitations or verbally invited people with disabilities to your party, according to their ability? photo credit: Clover Invitation via photopin (license)

Seek

Seek to make sure that people with disabilities are invited and feel welcome to attend and share their accommodations needs. Party emails can indicate for guests to call ahead with their needs.

Checklist says "ready, finished, listo, lista...think of a checlist or to-do list: items on the list get checked off when they're ready or finished."
Creating a checklist with guest needs is a way to remember important details. photo credit: #231 – ready, finished – listo, lista via photopin (license)

Ask

Then planners should Ask individuals what their needs are and be creative with problem solving for special situations.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, President of RespectAbility USA, an organization that seeks to “reshape the attitudes of American society” about people with disabilities and “empower people with disabilities to achieve as much of the American dream as their abilities and efforts permit,” wrote an editorial in The Huffington Post about ways to include people with disabilities at your party.

What’s her first tip for including people with disabilities in your event? Ask.

According to the article, “If you know someone has a disability, use a simple strategy — ask the person what they need to be fully included.”

Needs Vary by Person

Each individual is specific.

Buffets bother many people with disabilities. People with wheelchairs sometimes can't reach items or serve and hold their plate while navigating their wheelchair. People who are blind or have low vision aren't seeing what's there or how to serve it. People who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing have difficult understanding food preparers asking questions about their preferences. photo credit: abschluss-2009-buffet-1 via photopin (license)
Buffets bother many people with disabilities. People with wheelchairs sometimes can’t reach items or serve and hold their plate while navigating their wheelchair. People who are Blind or have Low Wision aren’t seeing what’s there or how to serve it. People who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing have difficulty understanding servers asking questions about their preferences. photo credit: abschluss-2009-buffet-1 via photopin (license)

One time, a friend told me that the buffet tables were too high for her to reach from a wheelchair. Other users might be able to reach the table, but need help plating their food.

Woman uses portable ramp to lower her wheelchair.
Stairs and big steps hinder wheelchair access. Portable ramps are one solution. photo credit: 1H7A1145 via photopin (license)

Many people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing want some quiet spaces where they can speak with others without competing noise. Some members of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing community like loud music so they can feel the beat. They might appreciate important song lyrics ahead of time so they will know what is being said in the song if it has an important meaning to your event.

A particularly beautiful way to enjoy events is through the use of sign language interpreters, who can add words, the beat, and the feeling of the song to their interpretation. Not everyone knows sign, so it’s important to ask.

People stand around talking at a party with low lighting.
While romantic, low lighting isn’t friendly to people trying to read lips or to see when they have low vision. photo credit: Disney – Blue Bayou Restaurant via photopin (license)

People with Low Vision often appreciate more lighting. They also may appreciate time to get to know the area before everyone arrives, as do many people who are Blind.

An Autism self-advocate told me loud noise bothered him and he needed ear plugs, and no strobe or flashing lights because they trigger headaches.

Many bright lights extend from a large stage.
Flashing or strobe lights can cause headaches or trigger epileptic seizures for some. photo credit: ///////// via photopin (license)

For people with Epilepsy, strobe or flashing lights (even police or ambulance lights) can bring on a seizure.

Parties that include everyone and make them feel welcome extends a warmth to all guests that enriches your party.

Source: 10 Tips for Including People With Disabilities in Your Party | Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi

The Need for Star Wars Access for All Abilities, Signing May the Force Be with You

Children dress up as Jedi masters from the Dark Side with red lightsabers.
People of all abilities want to put on a costume and share the Star Wars’ experience. Credit: Christina Goebel, Star Wars: The Force Awakens Dec. 17 premiere at Disney Springs in Kissimmee, Florida

While premieres for the latest Star Wars movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, were last night, the film opens in nationwide theaters today. Almost everyone who wants to can view one of the coolest movies in the galaxy–but not quite. For one blogger who uses a wheelchair, leaving home to view the movie with a damaged wheelchair could endanger his life. Another young man may be attending the film because of director J.J. Abram’s and others’ contributions.

Access to movies for people of all abilities will take a community effort.

Star The Force Awakens Wars lit up on the ground.
This Star Wars: The Force Awakens step and repeat on the ground at Disney Springs in Kissimmee, Florida makes it easy for everyone to snap their picture, even if they use a wheelchair. Credit: Christina Goebel

Movies have been a stress point for many people with a disability. For some, they need captions or amplification to hear, others need descriptive voice, and others need physical access to parking, the building, and accessible seating and bathrooms. Many theaters now provide this access and indicate next to the movie listing if it’s accessible.

A lot of work is still needed for ensuring access, as you can tell from viewing this “official” trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens that has no captions or this one, with 22 million views–but no captions for people who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing, or Deafblind. As for descriptive voice for people who are blind, also not there.

Star The Force Awakens Wars light display on side of a Disney building.
This Star Wars: The Force Awakens building wall projection provides another accessible backdrop for people with many abilities. Credit: Christina Goebel, at Disney Springs

Here is how theaters accommodate disability, but visit your theater’s website or call to verify and if necessary, reserve access:

  • Descriptive voice: actions described by voice, supplied for those with low vision or blindness and available over a theater-provided headset
  • Closed-captioning: viewed by theater-provided Sony glasses, a captioning device, or shield (View a captioned video of how captioned glasses work here.)
  • Open captioning: scheduled less frequently, captions are shown on the film itself for all to see
  • Assistive Listening Device: a theater-provided amplification device for those with mild to moderate hearing loss
  • Accessible Parking, Seating, and Bathrooms: those spaces with no seats allow someone using a wheelchair to sit–and may run out temporarily during Star Wars’ showings
  • Showings for People with Cognitive Disabilities: usually scheduled later for showings, allow viewers to walk around or talk as they desire, sound may be lower for those with Autism, reduces stress about “proper behavior” for viewing films
  • Showings for with Sign Language for People who are Deaf: usually scheduled later with sign language interpreters

Watching films with sign language is a truer form of communication for those who are culturally Deaf and use sign as their primary method of communication.

To see how different sign language is from captions, learn how Deaf Star signs, “May the Force be With You!”

Seats in a theater with open space next to them to accommodate a wheelchair.
Seats with open spaces next to them are for wheelchairs. Don’t occupy these areas unless you or family members need them. photo credit: Riverview Theater [006/366] via photopin (license)
If you need accommodations, call early for theater access, especially when seats will be full, to know if there will be enough accessible seating, if captions will be available for the 3D version of the movie, if the film will have descriptive voice, if an open captioned film will be shown, or if there will be enough amplification devices on hand.

On crowded days, those using wheelchairs might want to call ahead to arrange for assistance carrying their food and drinks while navigating thick crowds in hallways.

Those needing additional access should show up early to the film to ensure their space or equipment is available. Accessible seating and equipment take extra time to arrange.

While many people with disabilities will experience Star Wars: The Force Awakens in theaters, some will not.

Darth Vader kneels on ground. He has painted the words Epic Fail on the wall.
Technology exists to improve people’s lives, but many can’t receive access to it. In some cases, when equipment fails, people with disabilities may have to wait years for a replacement. photo credit: Weston Super Mare – Epic Fail via photopin (license)

For actor, blogger, and activist Dominick Evans, Dec. 17 was a reminder of the downside of the lack of access. Evans said in his blog, “Not only can I not go see [Star Wars: The Force Awakens], but I probably won’t be able to see it until it comes to streaming or television. The reason is because I lack access to the things I need to not only get out of my house, but also out of my bed. I have been trapped in bed before, and it sucks, but today it is my reality…not because I’m disabled, but because any type of equipment and services I (and others) need, are 10 times more expensive. ”

Wheelchair foot rest is alone on floor, broken off the wheelchair.
Something as simple as a broken wheelchair foot rest can contribute to broken bones for the user because the wheelchair can roll over his or her foot. photo credit: Broken leg via photopin (license)

Evans has had a broken wheelchair for three years. He said that if insurance comes through, he may have a new wheelchair next spring. In the meantime, Evans’ wheelchair is painful and dangerous to use.

Not having a wheelchair is one of Evans’ access problems. Another is needing a new Hoyer lift, equipment used to move Evans into his wheelchair and out of it.

Evans said, “Due to something called contractures in my legs, which can be very painful, my legs hang around the bar of the kind of lift I use. My feet snag on it, and I have recently experienced multiple sprained feet and broken toes.”

The new lift that won’t break Evans’ bones costs $5,000 and may not be covered by insurance.

For people like Evans, not having appropriate technology is life-threatening and deprives him of choices many of have that we take for granted.

“This is the part of having a disability that stinks the most … knowing you could have your freedom back, but lacking that access to get the things you need, to make it happen. Today I wish I could go to the movies. I have long been a Star Wars fan,” Evans said.

Evans asks us to think of him when we experience the film at theaters. He said, “So today, if you get to go enjoy Star Wars…have some popcorn for me, and think about ways you can help support the disability community, so those of us currently unable to go see this film, or any other film franchise we happen to love, due to lack of access, have a greater chance of not facing these barriers, in the future.”

J.J. Abrams standing a podium next to microphone.
J.J. Abrams, director of the new Star Wars movie, has contributed to the access of those with disabilities. Have you? photo credit: J. J. Abrams via photopin (license)

J.J. Adams, the director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, contributed $50,000 this year to the family of 10-year-old Michael Keating, a young man who has Cerebral Palsy and whose family needed an accessible van to transport him. They needed more equipment too, since his mother had two hernia surgeries related to moving her 70-pound son.

According to a Washington Post report, Abrams said, “Katie and I made the donation. Likely for the same reason others did: we were moved by the Keating family’s grace, strength and commitment to each other.”

Picture of Yoda's head. It reads, "Try not. Do or do not. There is no try."
Abrams lives Yoda’s mantra by taking action to ensure greater access for others. It’s probable that a young man whose family he helped was able to see his movie because of Abrams’ contribution. photo credit: Yoda wisdom via photopin (license)

Sign Shares staff realizes the need to advocate for access and inclusion so that everyone can live, work, and play in the least restrictive environment. Sign Shares has contributed to disability events across the state and nation to support disability education, awareness, inclusion, and advocacy for people of all abilities.

If you need a sign language interpreter, CART live captioning, or similar resources, you can request services here or call: Local (Houston): 713.869.4373 • Toll Free: 866.787.4154, or at the Videophone numbers for callers who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: Videophone 1: 832.431.3854 • Videophone 2: 832. 431.4889.

The Sign Shares’ advocacy team can provide resources to those who need technology, access, or advocacy information. Contact us here or by calling the numbers above, at  or at the Videophone numbers for callers who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: Videophone 1: 832.431.3854 • Videophone 2: 832.431.4889.

May the Force Be with You!