BRADENTON (FOX 13) – While preparing the public for Hurricane Irma in Manatee County, the deaf community was utterly confused by a so-called sign language interpreter.
As County Commissioner Robin DiSabatino urged the public to be safe, the interpreter signed about pizza and bears.
“It was very unnerving,” said Charlene McCarthy, a nationally certified interpreter and the president of VisCom, a sign language interpreting service.
Her business is dedicated to serving the deaf community.
“They wanted to know where to go… They were desperate for information,” said McCarthy.
It’s not the first time there has been confusion. In 2013 during Nelson Mandela’s funeral, a fake interpreter signed gibberish as he stood beside speakers including President Obama.
In December as Tampa police announced the arrest of the suspected Seminole Heights killer, a phony sign language interpreter confused those at home.
Manatee County told FOX 13 in a statement: “We learned many important lessons from Hurricane Irma and county staff have spent months working to resolve issues and improve operations so that we’re even better prepared to respond when the next natural disaster threatens our area. From the time Irma passed, one of our top priorities has been finding a permanent and professional American Sign Language (ASL) service provider during emergency briefings for the public. Later this week a formal Request for Proposal will be made public asking for ASL providers to bid on the service. Within weeks of the RFP closing, we’ll be able to review proposals and select a suitable vendor that will provide reliable ASL translation service when we’ll need it to communicate with the deaf and hard of hearing community.”
“I believe that all of these things have had to come to the forefront in order to make changes for the better in the future,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy said she and others have wanted interpreters to be licensed for years, but efforts to get laws requiring it have failed.
After a high school student brought the Manatee County video to his attention, Broward County Representative Richard Stark wants a change.
“I chuckled at first and I thought about it. It’s not funny and I know it’s not funny to that community,” he told FOX 13 by phone.
Representative Stark introduced a bill requiring interpreters to be certified by the national registry of interpreters.
“We should never be failing our citizens who are hearing impaired,” Said Rep.Stark.
McCarthy said it is the first step in the right direction.
“Something needs to happen. A change needs to take place,” she said.