Sign Language Interpreter Signs About Bears, Pizza in Hurricane Emergency

Florida officials took heat when a sign language interpreter they brought in to help warn people of Hurricane Irma apparently delivered a different message.

In a state of emergency, a sign language interpreter becomes a critical link for the hearing impaired so that they can get the same urgent information.

But as Hurricane Irma was headed for Florida, an interpreter brought in at the last minute reportedly failed to deliver the exact same message state emergency officials were saying.

Manatee County officials claimed to be ‘in a pinch’ when it was time to convey their important messages to their citizens and were forced to turn to a lifeguard who was “familiar” with sign language because his brother is deaf.

The Daily Mail reported the interpreter signed messages like, “Help you at that time to use bear big” and “Pizza want you are. Need be bear monster.”

To be fair, a bear monster might have been able to withstand the punch of Hurricane Irma when it made landfall in the Florida Peninsula.

But as is completely understandable, to the deaf and hearing-impaired community of Manatee County, it was definitely no laughing matter.

Aside from the incorrect words being signed, even the color of his shirt sent an immediate signal to some advocates in the deaf community, like a former president of the National Association of the Deaf, who said wearing a bright yellow top rather than black made his hands less visible.

I would never have thought of that.

Since I don’t know sign language myself, I have no way to authenticate the captions presented on this video posted to YouTube that claims to provide accurate subtitles to the sign language interpreter’s hand gestures, but I certainly hope it wasn’t this bad:

Last year in South Carolina as Hurricane Matthew headed our way, then-Gov. Nikki Haley had Jason Hurdich, a nationally certified deaf interpreter, by her side signing to the deaf community as she relayed critical information. Hurdich was initially criticized for what appeared to be overly-exaggerated gestures and facial expressions.

But when he was interviewed about his technique, Hurdich, who is himself completely deaf, said his assorted facial expressions and animated delivery are as important to American Sign Language as punctuation is to written language. And for providing that necessary link between emergency officials, Haley thanked him for his efforts and called him a “rock star.”

Besides communicating with the deaf audience, Hurdich also certainly raised awareness about the communication gap for the deaf population for those who may have never paid any attention to a sign language interpreter.

It’s just a shame that Florida authorities missed the chance to learn how important it is to make sure all of their bases were covered when an even bigger storm was approaching their coast.

Hopefully, it won’t happen again.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 27 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.