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Hurricane Sandy and Interpreter Sensation

When it comes to emergency preparedness as it happened during the hurricane Sandy that hit NYC area in October, it is important that deaf and hard of hearing people are informed via visual means such as captioning and sign language interpreting. So I applaud Bloomberg for using a professional sign language interpreter during his emergency announcements on TV along with captioning.

TV Screen of Sandy Coverage with captioning and ASL interpreting
(TV Coverage of Bloomberg’s Emergency Message with captioning and ASL interpreting.)

Even though the majority of deaf and hard of hearing people does not sign, using sign language interpreters during emergencies is important, too. I noticed during the announcement that captioning was delayed a sentence after the interpreter was relaying Bloomberg’s information – that is common in real-time captioning. Sometimes there are typos in captions that can be easily misunderstood during emergencies, and double checking information with an interpreter is helpful.

As you notice on the picture above, Bloomberg used not only one sign language interpreter for all of his emergency announcements. I would like emphasize this because of the hype about Lydia Callis in the media. While Lydia did a great job, other interpreters like the one in the photo were not recognized. The another interpreter’s name is Pamela Mitchell, and the hat is to be taken off to her, too.

There are many links that you could google for various articles about how “animated” Lydia Callis was. There were a lot of videos with her impersonators, and many of them were not even captioned! Also, many of Bloomberg emergency announcements that were originally captioned on TV were not captioned online.

While it is understandable for many hearing people not familiar with sign language to be fascinated with interpreters, they need to be aware that using facial expressions and body language are as important in a sign language as inflections are in a spoken language and that sign language interpreters are not used to entertain people. They need also to realize that there are many deaf and hard of hearing people who get frustrated with the lack of information during emergencies. So interpreters and captions were a godsend to NYC residents who watched Bloomberg’s messages on TV. And what happened to those who had no power to be able to watch TV or use the Internet connection? What about Bloomberg’s online announcements that were not captioned? This is something that many hearing people take for granted.

To help people better understand about how information is conveyed via sign language, Arika Okrent, a linguist, explains in her article, Why Do Sign Language Interpretres Look So Animated?

Last, but not least, sign language is to be respected – just like any spoken foreign language – and not to be made fun of. There were many videos with Lydia impersonators, and not all of them were funny – on top of not being captioned. The worst video that has upset the signing community was one by Chelsea Handler. The iDeaf News staff posted a petition to sign to make Chelsea Handler to issue a public apology. Below is their video with excerpts of Chelsea’s insulting show.

Unfortunately, the video is not captioned for non-signers (which is also ironic), so here’s a rough transcript of the signed message:

Seth Gerlis: Hi, I’m Seth Gerlis with iDeaf News. Here’s a special report related to late comedy show with Chelsea Lately that made fun of Mayor Bloomberg’s sign language interpreter named Lydia Callis who interpreted during emergency announcement about hurricane Sandy. The show staff hired an actor to impersonate Lydia who did not know of any proper sign language. Let me show the video.

(Showing Chelsea’s video excerpt that was also not captioned)

Seth Gerlis: As you can see, that’s why video made deaf and hard of hearing community feel very upset and complain through Facebook and other social media that it was not appropriate of the show to make fun of Lydia Callis. She was interpreting during the emergency situation where communication access for deaf and hard of hearing was very important. They were just copying some signs that did not convey any meaning and were mocking it. If you feel it was not appropriate of Chelsea, please send a letter to her studio. Her address is here (pointing to the address). Also, iDeaf News created a petition that you can sign to make Chelsea Handler issue a proper apology for making fun of Lydia Callis and deaf and hard of hearing community. Here’s a link to the website where you can sign the petition (pointing to the URL). Please share this with your family, friends, co-workers, people who learn sign language and ask them to sign the petition. I’m Seth Gerlis with iDeaf News special report. Sayonara (?).

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