Legislation would require certified ASL interpreters for weather emergencies

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By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service
February 1, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- During Hurricane Irma, an unqualified American Sign Language interpreter hired by an emergency operations center signed gibberish instead of evacuation orders. A Florida lawmaker is trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

During an emergency situation, Floridians rely on broadcasts from the Division of Emergency Management to receive important information and updates. For Florida’s estimated 200,000 adults living with hearing impairments, the televised updates can be crucial.

On a broadcast by Manatee County Emergency Management during Hurricane Irma, an unqualified American Sign Language interpreter butchered important evacuation orders. He stopped frequently throughout the broadcast, signing words like “pizza," “monster” and “bear."

“Even if it’s one incident, I mean that could be thousands of people that get the wrong information," said Representative Richard Stark.

The incident sparked outrage among the deaf community and interpreters.

Chris Wagner, the former president of the National Association of the Deaf, said, “Everyone was shocked and asking the leaders in the deaf community to do something about it.”

In light of the blunder, new legislation gaining traction would require the Division of Emergency Management to higher state or nationally certified ASL interpreters to translate during weather emergencies.

The legislation has the support of deaf organizations who say they’re often overlooked by the state.

“They feel the state doesn’t take serious enough concerns of the hearing impaired," said Rep. Stark.

The Division of Emergency Management says they already include ASL interpreters during their broadcasts. But, it says the legislation would ensure accountability on a state and local level so only qualified interpreters are used.

In Florida, there are 564 ASL interpreters certified by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf.

The legislation has cleared one committee in the House and one in the Senate.

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