Interpreting Effectively for Deaf Victims of Violence

VERA_CEUsThis is an important workshop from the VERA Institute of Justice; I learned a lot and began the process of toughening up my own trauma responses. I know my trauma reactions can be elicited in the presence of violence and accidental severe injury. Taking this workshop is a conscious effort in the direction of being able to cope well and remain whole when presented with awful suffering. The extent and scope of domestic violence is appalling: not only that it still occurs but also that physical and sexual abuse of women (in particular) continues to be sanctioned by horrible sexism and (predominately male) needs for power and control.

Anti-Deaf Hate Speech #NOTFUNNY

Fox News, Boston affiliate channel 25, and Doug VB Goudie should be sued for hate speech. Seriously. Denying Deaf people the right to information in a language they can understand is violence. Ridicule of their language is an act of violence on a continumm that begins with disregard and ends with people dying because they are excluded from public communication.

Watch the ASL version of this blogentry.

What's happening VB? You just realized the beauty of communication using a visual-gestural human language!
VB discovers American Sign Language – Where has he been?

The Deaf community in Massachusetts has been lobbying for live simultaneous interpretation of emergency press conferences for decades. Finally, Governor Patrick and his staff figure out the logistics of providing quality professional interpretation and VB makes a mockery of it? First, you’d think VB just discovered he has eyes. Welcome to the world of visual noise! Second, what’s wrong with multitasking? You can’t watch and listen to two different things at the same time? Come on, VB, join the modern world. Third, if he has the hots for Deval, he should take it elsewhere. No, VB, “Deval Deval Deval” is not where people’s attention should be during a PUBLIC EMERGENCY ANNOUNCEMENT. People’s attention should be on the information, not the messenger.

American Sign Language performed by a Certified Deaf Interpreter: This is ASL!
Title should read: The best ASL we’ve ever seen!

Which is why it is so insulting that you would even consider asking the ASL interpreter to “tone it down.” You, a non-deaf (“hearing”) person with access to who knows how many communication channels? You can find the information again easily and with no language barrier. Deaf people get one chance to see the information in their own language. And you want to begrudge them the opportunity because you can’t concentrate? Get a grip, man.

Not only does the provision of live simultaneous interpretation during crises give access to the Deaf community to information that you take for granted, it could become a signal to the hearing world that something important is going on and maybe everyone should pay attention too!  Precisely because it isn’t every day that an interpreter shows up on the television screen is a fantastic way to let everyone know there’s a situation where personal safety is at risk.

Watch VB’s news commentary.

Here’s a transcript:

WOMAN: Alright, Welcome back 6:25 this morning. It’s time to “Let it Rip” on Fox 25 morning news, VB joining us in studio here. A treat, 2 days in a row we’ve had him here. And we have Bonnie here as well as we Let It Rip on the press conference. Meant to be a serious thing here, we’re talking about a serious blizzard heading our way. But if you watched this thing yesterday, I…I don’t know how you couldn’t be distracted by everything (laughing) that was going on in the background of this. You had Andrea Cabral in the background who was obviously very warm. And is fanning herself, which by the way, was a very nice fan. Looks like she must bring this with her everywhere
Gene: fashionable
Woman: very fashionable fan…then you have this (laughs) sign language person, who is very, very animated and VB I think you said it best before, “she’s at like an 11 and maybe she needs to bring it down to like a 6”.
VB: Look, at one point during this thing, my wife and I were like not listening at all to the governor and we were trying to caption HER. Because this, this stuff is so over the top and so exaggerated. Maybe it is, I don’t even know, but from my viewpoint it was. I was just fascinated on her the whole time, and I don’t know what I was supposed to do because I wasn’t listening to the Governor.
Woman: (laughing)
Bonnie: You know what? This came up with Hurricane Sandy too because the interpreter who was at Mayor Blumberg’s press conference was also very, very animated. It actually prompted a lot of articles. There was actually one in ‘The Atlantic’ answering the question “why are these interpreters so animated?”
Woman: They did a whole SNL skit on it, remember? (laughing)
VB: (laughing) what is that whole motion there? (laughing) Look at that!?
Gene: (laughing)
Bonnie: Yeah, you know but other than the hand motions, their facial expressions actually modify what is going on. So, if there’s going to be snow, then they can say ‘there’s going to be a lot of snow’. Or its ‘really bad snow’ or ‘you need to hurry’. So, I think that the dramatic interpretation doesn’t bother me at all. I mean, you listen. These people, have…have the pressure of having to translate, on the spot and make sure they capture it dramatically so that people can understand. So if you find it distracting, I don’t know, just focus on the governor. Listen, walk away. you can hear, so VB walk away from the TV and just listen
Gene: (talking over Bonnie) I’ve seen others that have done it and haven’t been that distracting,
Woman: yeah…I have too.
Gene: So I don’t buy that, I don’t buy that at all. I mean, listen, I know she has important information to put out there. And to people who have issues and need that service that’s being provided, but I think it could be done so in a way…that’s all you’re talking about this morning, you know? The Governor is passing along some important information…and you’re trying to listen…and you know, there’s so many other things going on how could you NOT be distracted by it all?
Woman: We’ve obviously seen it at other press conferences..
Gene: (talking over) It’s all everyone is talking about, twitter has all these comments about it
Woman: hashtags for people who are all of a sudden stealing the show, and no one was tweeting any of the information that was coming out of the press conference.
VB: I guarantee you when Richard Davey walked off that stage, whoever greeted him, the first thing Davey says “ Was it me, or was that really distracting?” (woman laughing) Andrea Cabral is fanning him as much as she’s fanning herself. (woman lauging) And second of all, you can see Davey periodically looking out the corner of his eye like “wow! I didn’t see that one coming” and if HE’s distracted? We’re going to be distracted! Let’s say this was 9/11…YOU CAN’T HAVE THIS! There are times, when …
Woman: right, right
VB: its gotta absolutely be focused on the speaker and that was the LAST thing I was focused on here.
Woman: yeah, that’s true.
Gene: right
Woman: Alright, well MYFOXBOSTON.COM or our facebook page if you’d like to weigh in on this we’d love to hear from you…



Stewardship and Simultaneous Interpretation

Where, and when, does meaning happen?

Communicating through a simultaneous interpreter with someone who thinks and communicates with a language different from yours is a very special kind of intercultural communication. This online professional development workshop from the Learning Lab for Resiliency will use a think tank approach to engage participants in open dialogue about the intersection of communication theory with interpreting practice.

CEU’s available. Information and registration instructions are available here.

Sign Language Interpreting and Emergency Management

Outrage in the Deaf community over the ridicule of American Sign Language.

Language for the Eyes

It has only taken decades of advocacy and complaints to the FCC, FEMA, and State governments for public officials to respond to Deaf Americans who rely on sign language for communication.

DeafNation, emphasizing language, culture and pride, expresses “dismay and concern” to Chelsea Handler.

The outburst of public response to professional simultaneous interpretation of a signed language during Hurricane Sandy reveals an astonishing range of exoticism, prejudice, and basic ignorance of a vibrant linguistic culture flourishing despite generations of institutionalized discrimination.

The robust capacity of American Sign Language to communicate in the dimension of sight has apparently blown the minds of sound-centric “hearing people.” None of the media coverage of the emergency interpreting by Lydia Callis gets all of the details right. Most of the mainstream discourse focuses on Ms Callis’ diction, minimizing the essential purpose of emergency access to communication through simultaneous interpretation. This is why the Deaf community is furious. Seth Gerlis explains in a special report from i Deaf News: “Access to communication during an emergency is very important to the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community.” A petition demanding an apology for an offensive skit by Late Show comedian Chelsea Handler explains, “We are thankful to have her to interpret for us.”

Professional sign language interpreters are also offended. Bill Moody explains:

We don’t want to be stars; we just want Deaf people to know what is going on! But [Lydia Callis] should have had a partner to help her when she got tired, help her with local place names, and show that interpreters work in teams. I do not appreciate the parodies of her interpreting work which have proliferated around the internet. They are meant to be in good fun, but they indicate the kind of bias against a language which uses facial expressions and body movement as a part of its grammar. Our work as interpreters is not funny. It is serious business. Yes, of course, we like to laugh at ourselves and at life, but sign language itself should not be the brunt of jokes.

Insider vs Outsider Humor

I appreciate Bill’s point that sign language itself should not be the object of ridicule, and the Deaf community’s reaction is also justified. It would be different if, for instance, deaf children had reliable exposure to adult ASL role models every single school day and deaf adults had consistent provision of simultaneous interpretation when needed to participate as an equal employee in the workplace. On the other hand, becoming the butt of public humor is a powerful indicator of social acceptance. What if the Lydia moment generates a turning point in the provision of simultaneous interpretation and ASL-based education because hearing people realize they do care about the lives and experiences of the Deaf?

In contrast with Chelsea Handler’s outsider humor, another parody offers insight into some of the subtexts of simultaneous interpretation. The resistance of hearing people to actually use interpreting to establish meaningful relationships with Deaf individuals results in a skewed kind of pair bonding between deaf people and interpreters. Unless and until hearing people begin to realize that there is more to communication than words of information, misunderstandings are bound to continue. In an emergency situation, this could result in the loss of life, health, or valuable property. A spoof by Frank Panda, Armando Riesco, and Shirley Rumierk could be understood as  a cultural critique of the misguided fascination of hearing people with the language of ASL rather than to the potential relationship being enacted with deaf people. Ineffective communication is the usual result of such dismissive behavior, despite the outstanding skills and best intentions of professional interpreters.

Emergency Management Interpreting

Officials charged with public warnings need to comprehend why English-text captioning, note writing, and the use of volunteers who may have learned some sign language is insufficient:  protecting Deaf Americans during disasters requires embedding emergency management interpreters at all levels of operations.

Callis was great, but not because she was so lively and animated. She was great because she was performing a seriously difficult mental task—simultaneously listening and translating on the spot—in a high-pressure, high-stakes situation. Sure, she was expressive, but that’s because she was speaking a visual language. Signers are animated not because they are bubbly and energetic, but because sign language uses face and body movements as part of its grammar.

It is gratifying to see some governors and television stations finally get public warning communication right by hiring professional interpreters and keeping the interpreter onscreen so the Deaf audience can benefit from the emergency communication access to information. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and Governor Deval Patrick did Mayor Bloomberg one better by hiring a Certified Deaf Interpreter to generate a localized interpretation (something Ms Callis was unable to do, working alone and being relatively new to the New York City scene). A recent Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training at Gallaudet University demonstrated how crucial it is in a crisis to use local interpreters who are familiar with the place-specific terminology and references. One of the CERT instructors, Chief John Sollers, told the group how important the experience had been for him, explaining that he had learned a lot and, in particular, emphasizing that using interpreters for emergency communication between First Responders with Deaf people should be a part of routine training: “We  need to practice how we’ll play.”

Providing effective public warnings is the first, most obvious stage of integrating sign language interpreters into the infrastructure of emergency management. The next stage involves recognizing and treating professional sign language interpreters as peers within the community of first responders. Angela Kaufman (ADA Coordinator, City of Los Angeles Department on Disability) and Rick Pope (GEMINI Project) proposed the establishment of sign language interpreter strike teams at FEMA’s Getting Real II: Promising Practices in Inclusive Emergency Management for the Whole Community in 2011.

Moving Forward into an Era of Climate Healing

NBC’s Brian Williams talked with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Williams suggested that a vast public works project was needed and asked, “Is New York the New Amsterdam?” Cuomo did not disagree. He answered, “As I said kiddingly the other day, we having a 100-year-flood every two years now…we have not seen a problem like this, a flood like this, in our generation. It’s a new reality for us and it’s one we are going to have to deal with.

All of these problems are interrelated. We need an ingenious strategy that insists upon linking social justice with the economic infrastructure. Weather has always served a unifying purpose for Americans – it has given us a safe topic upon which to find common ground despite every imaginable kind of social, cultural, and religions difference. Emergency response costs have skyrocketed over the last five years. The rate and severity of natural disasters is absolutely unprecedented. The vulnerability of disenfranchised and minority populations is no longer the only risk to the stability of our society. By making the commitment and dedicating ourselves to extending the reach of emergency preparedness and response to everyone, entirely new career fields can be created – putting Americans back to work and reinvigorating the economy. This is necessary in order to usher in a new equality along with taking up responsibility for minimizing – and eventually reversing – the effects of global warming.

You know it’s bad when you can’t find your own website.

How do I login to Dark Ally Redesign?

I have a lot to write today: a brief description of the MEDIEM/UMass Dashboard tool for online social deliberation, some notes on accommodation concerns, and a public report on the findings of the action learning research that I did in a workshop at RID Region II. The conversation threads with each associated interlocutor-group are simultaneous-they are happening in concurrent real time.

2:37 pm
Two long text messages were just sent, by me, to one of my longtime interpreter supporters. Because she texted me a “BTW” message while I was typing the preceding list of things to do. In the duree. That’s what we’d call it if we were talking in terms of historical time, instead of at this microscale of time presently passing. (If she responds to my request to use the screenshot of that “BTW” message with an affirmative informed consent – ( as opposed to the more conservative negative informed consent) – let’s just call ’em IC-A and IC-B. Informed CONSENT Type A (Affirmative) or Informed Consent Type B (Negatory on that good buddy.)

2:44 pm
Mediem/UMass Online Social Deliberation Project: There’s a quote I want to find, either from a blogentry or a Transmittal with Readiness Consulting Services, which described the duality at the core of the delay in the requisition and guaranteed provision of emergency management sign language interpreting for communicating with Deaf Americans. I mean, if there’s actually a crisis – you know, an emergency stemming from a natural or man-made disaster – and you don’t already have some sense about how to talk with a deaf person, then you’re both gonna wind up in each other’s way.

2:51 pm

Searching for that quote related to Serve DC… five blog entries popped up.

(I keep getting distracted.)

Just heard some of the neighborhood kids getting off the schoolbus. It’s been a chilly rainy day, since whenever it started . . . sometime last night.


Accommodation concerns for the MA IRAA Project, e.g., the action learning research study of constructing mutual understanding on the top three things a first responder needs to be thinking when interacting with a person needing help in a way that they are unfamiliar with (this is the collaboration piece with UMass’ Center for Knowledge Communication).


Region II Report (action learning from Hopefully this is going to get published on the CIT Weblog:

A Case for Action Learning: Living the Question Now

The present state of general knowledge about simultaneous interpretation is slim, and specialist knowledges are dense and possibly counterproductive to best practice. I chose action learning as my research methodology… Finally (after many years), I can ask (what I think is the best) question in various forms, fitting the question to the particular perspective of the audience or receiver(s) in the given context. Recently, I am living the question with several different groups. The simultaneity of the conversations give me hope that we are, already, somehow living ourselves into the best answer.

I am writing my dissertation.

One chapter involves making the case for the research method of action learning. I announced this methodology in a blog-entry about my prospectus defense. The kind of knowledge that I am interested in is applied – I want to generate and circulate knowledge that can be used by everyone. The present state of general knowledge about simultaneous interpretation is slim, and specialist knowledges are dense and possibly counterproductive to best practice.

Young people aren’t being taught
the right words to even ask
the right questions.

~ Erin Watson, No Experiences
quoting @horse_ebooks

I chose action learning as my research methodology because I did not have all of the right words, and the batches of the words I did have would not just fall into making a single best question. Finally (after many years), I can ask (what I think is the best) question in various forms, fitting the question to the particular perspective of the audience or receiver(s) in the given context.

A few days ago, I interpreted the opening ceremony at an area college. I commented to my interpreting teammate that one of the benefits of being associated with education is that we are exposed to inspirational speeches a couple of times a year. No matter how many motivational speeches I’ve interpreted (usually from English into ASL), nearly every presenter manages to say something new or particularly relevant to whatever challenges I am currently living. This time it was Rainer Maria Rilke:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved . . . and try to love the questions themselves . . . the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

Recently, my writing has involved email correspondence with a range of different groups of people with various degrees of interest in simultaneous interpretation. I am living the question with each of these groups. The simultaneity of the conversations give me hope that we are, already, somehow living ourselves into the best answer.


Introduction to Inter-Role Dialogue

Many interpreters are familiar with the idea of intercultural or intergroup communication, which takes the identity of participants as important to meaning. . This workshop extends the idea of “identity” to the different roles individuals have in any communication situation. We’ll explore the case of emergency management interpreting, where First Responders have very clear priorities that may not coincide with what Deaf and hard-of-hearing people believe they need. Likewise, Deaf and hard-of-hearing people have express communication needs that may not coincide with what First Responders believe they can accommodate.

I’ll be presenting this workshop at the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) Region II Conference in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

Workshop Description:

Many interpreters are familiar with the idea of intercultural or intergroup communication, which takes the identity of participants as important to meaning. This workshop extends the idea of “identity” to the different roles individuals have in any communication situation. While keeping factors of gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, religion and other cultural dimensions in mind, the frame of reference that interlocutors bring to interpreted communication based on their role in the interaction is a crucial consideration. As an example and in order to practice skills, we’ll explore the case of emergency management interpreting, where First Responders have very clear priorities that may not coincide with what Deaf and hard-of-hearing people believe they need. Likewise, Deaf and hard-of-hearing people have express communication needs that may not coincide with what First Responders believe they can accommodate. This workshop plays with the idea of an interpreter’s role zone (Lee, 2010) as a pivot point within the larger mission of response and recovery. Developing interpreter competence in shifting alignments (on the basis of the relation between interlocutor’s specific roles and the overall context) is a skill that transfers to all interpreted interactions.

Educational Objectives:

Steph at work: presenting on "Dialogue under Occupation" at Lebanese American University, Beirut (Photo by Razvan Sibii)
Steph at work: presenting on "Dialogue under Occupation" at Lebanese American University, Beirut (Photo by Razvan Sibii)

At the conclusion of the workshop, participants will be able to

  1. name at least three ways of understanding role,
  2. identify the context of an interpreted interaction and describe how the context shapes interlocutor role choices,
  3. talk about the interplay of functional roles in a group with intercultural dynamics arising from defining role on the basis of identity,
  4. describe Goffman’s concept of footing and how it is relevant to interpreted interaction, and
  5. explain the grounded task of an emergency management interpreter.

Greenfield Coffee, Greenfield MA

Emergency Warning and Community Response: The Edge of Technology and Culture

It was a tiny pop quiz in the midst of a comprehensive examination.

First Responders do reach out to the Deaf community
First Responders reaching to the Deaf community

During last November’s nationwide test of FEMA’s public warning system, an action research study (#DEMX) was conducted to assess the communication potential of social media. The goal was to find a way to bridge the longstanding divide between “people of the eye” who use American Sign Language and emergency responders who rely on their ears. From the Deaf point-of-view, these “hearing people” are dependent on sound.

A dedicated group of social media pioneers keeps pushing the envelope of public communication within the field of emergency management. Meanwhile, the American Deaf community remains essentially neglected despite generations of struggle and decades-old accessibility rights legislation.

in all of the years of researching and taking courses / training in crisis communications – one group has not been mentioned as much as others.  This audience group is the deaf community. ~ Karen Freberg

Tweeting against Historical Trends

One popular social media tool for emergency warnings is Twitter. It is unclear how many Deaf people know about this timely and current source of information about emergencies of all kinds. Meteorologists are using Twitter to warn populations in their local media markets about serious weather events, and some emergency responders are using Twitter as part of crisis communication and disaster response. Figures 1 &  2 show a key result from the #DEMX experiment run during the November 2011 national “Emergency Alert System” test. Overall, although information about the Twitter-based #DEMX test spread, there was very little crossover between the two groups: Deaf citizens shared information within the Deaf community, and emergency management planners and responders shared the information within their community. This leads to a conclusion regarding how hard it is to stimulate conversation between communities who have an (apparently entrenched) history of ineffective communication.

However, in the course of a short campaign, the #DEMX Tweetstream garnered 163 unique users, and the Prezi explaining the idea (in English and ASL) got 1,500 hits! The information spread, but it was decontextualized from the relationships that need to be built among First Responders and members of the signing Deaf community.

Strategy (Action Research Methodology)

Few Deaf Tweeters "cross over" to the First Responder tweetstream
Few Deaf Tweeters "cross over" to the First Responder tweetstream

An already existing Twitter community using the hashtag, #SMEM (for social media emergency management), was introduced to a new hashtag, #DEMX (for deaf emergency management of variable “x”). The #DEMX hashtag was invented for this experiment, so it had no pre-existing user base. A late-deafened blogger and tweeter, Joyce Edmiston (@expressivehandz), spearheaded spreading the #DEMX hashtag among her followers. Using a text analysis software tool, we were able to track the spread of news about this social media experiment in both communities and break down the results.

Findings: A small but dedicated leading edge

In the nine days of monitoring (from November 2-11, 2011, with the test day on November 9), the 163 users in the #DEMX tweetstream gathered 765 tweets, while the #SMEM tweetstream garnered 5,759 tweets, generated by  1,135 unique users. We were interested in the tweets that included both hashtags. Barely 1/2 of 1% of #DEMX tweets included the #SMEM hashtag; and only .01% of #SMEM tweets included the #DEMX hashtag. Research team member Joe Delfino of DiscoverText writes, “Unfortunately, the mass crossover of Tweets that we had envisioned did not occur.” By “drilling down” into the data, however, we were able to generate some findings that, combined with knowledge of the historical basis of the overall challenge, confirms hypotheses worth testing in another round of Twitter-based action research.

4:1 Ratio Hearing to Deaf

In the #DEMX tweetstream, there were 26 unique users who included the #SMEM hashtag. After eliminating tweets from members of the research team there were a total of 28 tweets from 23 unique users. Of these 23 unique users, 20 are not deaf – they are hearing people associated in one way or another with emergency management.  Only three deaf tweeters “crossed over” to the emergency management community tweetstream. Some reasons for this terribly low percentage are explored below.

In the #SMEM tweetstream, there were 17 unique users who included the #DEMX hashtag, again, after eliminating tweets by research team members,  tweets including both hashtags were sent by 13 unique users: 9 hearing and 4 deaf, repeating the pattern in which more hearing people reached out toward the Deaf community than Deaf people reached back to the “Hearing” world of emergency management.

Concerning? Yes. Disheartening? No!

Obviously these sample sizes are too small for statistical significance. However, they do suggest some generalizations that could be formulated into concrete hypotheses and studied on a more robust scale. One issue involves whether the Deaf American linguistic minority of American Deaf Culture can be convinced that the dominant culture actually cares. In promoting this action research project, I created an online presentation, Deaf Eye on Emergency!, which describes the context of the national emergency alert system test using visual imagery, written English and several videoclips of commentary using American Sign Language. The presentation garnered over 1500 views during the nine-day research window and 1,846 as of this posting. English translations of the ASL clips are available now so that non-signers can know and respond to the explanations and ideas expressed in the video clips.

Creating New Relationships

Although good efforts and success stories do circulate, there is no commonly-recognized and widely-used medium of communication (yet) that satisfactorily mediates the sight-sound perceptual distinction between “People of the Eye” and “Hearing” people.  Written English and spreading more information are perceived as “the answer.” While both of these strategies are necessary, without an interaction strategy to cultivate and redefine the inherited perception of neglect, systemic improvements in Deaf preparedness and contribution to emergency response efforts cannot occur.

An Interaction Strategy for Emergency Preparedness

Individual Deaf people often experience being told to wait while someone tries to figure out how to communicate with them, and then (usually) delivered sub-par and minimal information rather than being fully engaged as intelligent and competent human beings who can help resolve aspects of the situation, whatever it is. Historically, the legacies of discrimination and prejudice have convinced many members of Deaf culture that Hearing people really do not care about them. Serious effort needs to be strategically planned and exercised in order to overcome this unfortunate dynamic. It can be done, and if done well, crucial skills, knowledge, and benefits of resilience will flow from the Deaf community into the larger fabric of American society.

Emergency Communication and the Deaf

In all of the years of researching and taking courses / training in crisis communications – one group has not been mentioned as much as others.  This audience group is the deaf community.  How do we go about in making sure that this audience group gets the same information about an emergency or crisis like all of our other audiences?

~ Karen Freberg, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor in Strategic Communication at the University of Louisville

Does the Deaf Community need sign language interpretation for emergencies?
Does the Deaf Community Need ASL Interpretation for Emergencies?

Long before today’s nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) advocated for improved accessibility to emergency warnings with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In response, FEMA made a video with American Sign Language explaining that old technology prevents full communication access to the Deaf and asking Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing people not to worry because, “this is only a test.”

Exclusive design?

However this is not “just” any old test. According to the Chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, “This test is vital to ensuring that the EAS, the primary alerting system available to the American public, works as designed” (emphasis added).  Chief James A Barnett explains, “the EAS is a media communications-based alerting system designed to transmit emergency alerts and warnings to the American public . . . providing vital information in crises, and the system is designed to work when nothing else does” (emphasis added).

Only One Way of Communicating?

My career as an American Sign Language/English interpreter, along with graduate study in the field of Communication, gives me reason to wonder at the insistence on a one-size-fits-all method of communicating emergency warnings.  Of course this makes sense from the topmost levels of the communication hierarchy, but at some point the local takes over.  Is text enough?  Are captions (assuming they are even provided!) adequate for catching the attention of a Deaf person in order to warn them of an impending crisis? Why not supplement outdated technology with live interpretation?

Getting Real – or Postponing It?

The national Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) has a Working Group developing a Standard Practice Paper on Emergency Interpreting. While the draft is under administrative review, efforts to properly train interpreters for integration into emergency planning and response were begun at a Florida State RID workshop in October. Meanwhile, information to guide Emergency Managers and First Responders in working with Sign Language Interpreter strike teams was presented in September at Getting Real II: Promising Practices in Inclusive Emergency Management for the Whole Community.

Deaf Tweet-In to Teach about communication access!

“One final note, for the communities that are deaf or hard of hearing, there is a special evaluation of how emergency alert information is transmitted to these communities. Emergency agencies are being encouraged to use the hashtag #demx during this EAS test so that social media can be evaluated for its effectiveness in reaching populations which may not hear the emergency alert.” ~ Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency

#demx introduced a few days before the test
#demx introduced a few days before the test

Why do Deaf Americans have to keep waiting for the majority to decide to protect everyone?  Why are Deaf Americans being told – yet again – to wait until … when?  The obvious, logical, and easy solution to inadequate captioning technology is to have sign language interpreters on contract for emergency interpreting. Despite years of advocacy from Deaf individuals within their communities and organizations, as well as at the institutional level by the National Association of the Deaf, provision of communication access is apparently such a low priority that the first national test is going to happen without any backup plan.

What are Deaf people to do if (when) there is a real emergency?

Where’s the ASL?

But maybe I assume sign language interpretation is the answer.  I designed an action research study to learn what the Deaf community needs.  The lead time has been extremely short, and the Deaf community may be experiencing “EAS fatigue”, however some traction on Twitter from social media users in emergency management and a loose network of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals suggests that a useful conversation may occur today about creating a warning system that effectively includes this neglected population.

Please read the Guidelines for Tweeting to #demx and follow @Deaf_Emergency, @stephjoke and @XpressiveHandz