Lawmakers look to hire certified Sign Language interpreters during weather emergencies

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - During Hurricane Irma an unqualified American Sign Language interpreter hired by a Florida county Emergency Operations Center signed gibberish instead of evacuation orders.

A Florida lawmaker is looking 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”.

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

The incident sparked outrage among the deaf community and interpreters.

Chris Wagner, the President of the National Association of the Deaf from 2012-2014 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 in the Legislature would require the Division of Emergency Management to hire state or nationally certified ASL interpreters to translate during weather emergencies.

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

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

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.