Manatee County “Interpreter” Signs Nonsense ASL at Hurricane Irma Press Conference

I’m surprised that it took me until early this week to hear about this story, because it does appear that it was covered by several media outlets. But here we are. I only heard on the September 19th edition of The Daily Show that Manatee County in Florida fucked up with its ASL interpretation during a televised press conference designed to get evacuation information out to citizens just before Hurricane Irma hit.

Content Note: Ableism, Weather Emergency, Emergency Planning, Privilege, Classism, Disrespect, PWD as an afterthought

Young white woman wearing a orange shirt holds her hands in front of her, just above chest level, palms facing her with her thumbs up and fingertips almost touching. Her nail polish is orange, and her hair is strawberry blonde. She is smiling. Keyword: Manatee County

Image Description: Young white woman wearing a orange shirt holds her hands in front of her, just above chest level, palms facing her with her thumbs up and fingertips almost touching. Her nail polish is orange, and her hair is strawberry blonde. She is smiling.

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Seriously, Florida?

It’s this sort of thing that makes disabled people one of the most vulnerable groups in America when it comes to weather emergencies, as I’ve written about before.

The issue isn’t that Manatee County didn’t think about providing ASL interpretation, as you can see in this video. The person who uploaded this video captioned it with what the interpreter is signing, and I think it’s clear what the main issue is.

But for those who don’t want to/can’t watch the video…the issues are:

This is unacceptable and infuriating, for a few reasons.

To Start…

Certified interpreters were available. Florida Governor Rick Scott used interpreter Sam Harris:

Sarasota County also used a qualified interpreter at its news conferences.

VisCom, a company that has provided Manatee County with interpreters in the past, wasn’t called about providing services for Hurricane Irma communications. Charlene McCarthy, the founder of VisCom, had offered to send in an interpreter for a September 9 press conference in Manatee County, but her offer was declined; no interpreter was used for that press conference.

For some reason, Manatee County decided not to use an interpreter. It’s not as if no one was anticipating the need for a press conference; the media started talking about Irma and where she would at least potentially hit just after Hurricane Harvey landed.

Meet Me At Camera Three, Manatee County Administration

All this brings one word to mind: afterthought. Deaf and hard-of-hearing people were an afterthought as you prepared to get potentially life-and-death information to your residents about a weather emergency. Think about what it must feel like to know you’re an afterthought.

It’s this half-ass attitude toward accessibility that continues to give disabled people the impression that their communities of residence don’t value their money, skills, desire to give back to their communities, or (in this case) even their lives. Go ahead and deny that this was the message you meant to send, Manatee County – it’s the message that you *did* send, with your failure to take simple steps to ensure that Deaf and hard-of-hearing people in your communities got the same access to the life-and-death press conference information that hearing people did.

You owe your Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities an apology, and a promise that this won’t happen again.

And for Those of You Who’d Tell Me…

You know who you are, you keyboard warriors.

Yes, you. The ones making comments like these on the internet coverage:

  • Deaf people activate CLOSED CAPTIONING on their tv sets. I guess numbnuts in government and around the country are unaware of that secretive tidbit of information. They also get text messages, emails, instant messages and communications from each other/family and read local news. They can translate audio to text. It’s not like a reeetarded interpreter is their only source in the year 2017. Duhhh
  • “I think what is shocking is that in 2017, taxpayers have to pay for that nonsense. they practically give away voice to text software, and there are plenty of free apps that would instantaneously give the devil a much more complete picture of what the officials are saying…Shameful waste of money.”
  • “Considering the few people who require this, it was a waste of time anyhow”
  • “Reminds me of the fake sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s Memorial, standing right next to Barry O and flailing about – that was quality comedy!”

Listen, folks. There are whole bunch of reasons why these comments are disgusting, but I don’t even need to get into them, because they’re all invalid for one, simple, legal reason:

Title II of the ADA dictates that “state and local governments must ensure that their communications, including emergency communications, are fully accessible to people with disabilities.” 

Accessibility is the law, and it’s been that way in America for 27 years. End of story.

But the fact that people felt comfortable letting fly with that sort  of ableist (not to mention classist, in some cases) shit  in the comments section of a story about how Manatee County’s lack of preparation meant that a group of disabled people didn’t get emergency information about a Category 5 hurricane….well, it made me feel ill. I wanted to draw some attention to it.

That sort of willful ignorance about the challenges that disabled face from the people in their  communities – well, it’s beyond disappointing.  It’s gross, really.

Seriously, America. Grow up.

Canada continues to send its thoughts and prayers for those affected by the recent hurricanes…

Interesting article on captioning vs ASL

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Thinking About Disability – Getting Out of Bataclan Concert Hall

Like everyone, my thoughts have been on the attacks in Paris and the friends and families of the people who died. As others have observed, this feels like a game-changer, and it makes me feel…anxious, and sad. This isn’t same world, even, that I went to university in, and I wonder what it will look like by the time my two nieces and my nephew are fully grown.

I inevitably end up thinking, when something like this happens, about disabled people who may have been involved.

Content Warning: Terrorism, Paris Shootings, Aurora Movie Theatre Shootings, Fire Emergency

A picture of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, with a retro effect, with a heart icon like the like buttons used in social networks to depict the idea of liking the picture. Keyword: Bataclan Concert Hall

Image Description: A picture of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, with a retro effect, with a heart icon like the like buttons used in social networks to depict the idea of liking the picture.

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In the car last Saturday,  my father and I listened to a CBC radio program where the host interviewed someone who was in Bataclan Concert Hall when the shootings began talk about what he experienced as people rushed to get out, and as the surrounding area and Paris in general realized what was happening.

“I don’t know what I would have done,” I said to my father honestly, thinking at the time about where I would have gone once I’d gotten out of Bataclan Concert Hall and onto the street.

“Gotten out of the building,” he said.

Yes, okay, that’s a given. But I’ve since thought, would it have been that easy, as a disabled person?

Getting Out When You’re Disabled and People are Scared

I don’t know what the interior of the Bataclan Concert Hall looks like, so I’m making some assumptions. But, based on the layout of a typical concert hall, I think that I could probably have gotten out of Bataclan Concert Hall fairly easily at this point in my stroke rehabilitation, assuming best conditions given the circumstances. With my cane, I’m fairly stable and I can move surprisingly quickly.

Yes, I probably would have gotten outside. Assuming best conditions given the circumstances:

  • Assuming that in other peoples’ panic to get out I did not get knocked over
  • Assuming that it was a good day and I wasn’t feeling dizzy or otherwise unwell

But that certainly would not have been the case in previous years, and as much as I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, I do not trust that a large, panicked group of people trying to leave a concert hall would necessarily help out a stranger who had fallen.

Or assist a stranger in a wheelchair who perhaps couldn’t get to the wheelchair entrance/exit because that would mean heading in the direction of the shots.

Or assist someone with low vision who may not be able to move as quickly because he or she has to use a white cane.

Or find some other way of making sure that a disabled person that otherwise needs assistance during a situation like that gets it.

The instinct for self-preservation and the protection of loved ones kicks in. I get that.

I think it’s a complicated issue, because unless I’ve totally misunderstood the law, being in a venue like the Bataclan Concert Hall for an event doesn’t mean that the venue owner has the same amount of responsibility for your safety as would, say, the administration of the school that your child attends. Schools absolutely have a responsibility to make sure that all students, including disabled students, are made as safe as possible in the event of gunfire on school grounds, including going into lockdown mode – teachers can’t just leave because they’re scared for their own safety. I don’t know what employees did at the Bataclan Concert Hall, but I don’t imagine that many (if any) stayed out of duty to patron safety – why would they potentially risk their lives that way?

I get that.

(Please feel free to correct me if you’ve heard otherwise. There certainly are dramatic stories of employees risking their lives for no good reason to save others in a crisis.)

However, there are safety standards that all businesses must meet, and when they don’t and patron safety is affected because of it – they need to be held accountable. And while I’m not going to suggest that a comprehensive plan about what needs to be done in the event of terrorist attack needs to be Priority One for either entertainment venues like the Bataclan Concert Hall or the disabled people that visit those venues (because, after all, in the grand scheme of things these sorts of attacks are still extremely rare in the West) in light of the fact that the world *is* rapidly changing and threats keep moving closer and closer (have up already in a movie theatre, in fact, if you remember the shooting in Aurora, Colorado – not ISIS-related, but certainly shocking in its brutality) perhaps venue owner owners need to stop and reassess, in light of these latest attacks:

  • What are the possible things that could go wrong during a show, however remote?
  • What are our responsibilities to patrons, in terms of their safety?
  • Are we meeting those responsibilities for *all* of our patrons, at all times?
  • Why or why not?
  • If “no”, what needs to be done? What’s the plan to make the necessary changes?
  • Whether “yes” or “no”, how do we best communicate safety procedures to all patrons?

And I think that everyone, disabled or non-disabled, should be cognizant of variables that might make a sudden, safe exit from a public venue difficult, and have a general plan for dealing with it:

  • Limitations imposed by disability (slower movement) or by navigating a panicking crowd or a building that’s not accessible enough
  • Responsibility for others’ safety (babies, children, any other person/people who need/needs assistance)
  • A fear of something involved with any sort of emergency and/or a sudden exit that may getting out safely overwhelming or difficult to do. For example, if you know that you become overwhelmed in the face of fear and tend not take action because you can’t make a decision about what to do first, that could be a problem.

Disability, Specifically

I can see some people pointing out that the obvious solution to the issue of making sure that you can safely get out of a venue quickly if you’re a disabled person that’s perhaps going to need assistance is to go to events in venues like movie theatres or the Bataclan Concert Hall with a person that can assist you to leave safely in an emergency.  For an event like the Eagles of Death Metal concert in Bataclan Concert Hall, presumably most people were with at least one friend anyway.

But not necessarily. I’ve never gone to a concert alone, but I’ve certainly gone to movies and plays alone. I’ve got friends who can’t imagine doing that, but it’s never bothered me.

To those that make the “bring a friend” argument – that requires an assumption that everything that a disabled person needs to safely exit a venue in an emergency will be in working order – for example, that the emergency exit by the screen in the movie theatre has had snow cleared away from it sufficiently that the door will open. If the damn door won’t open, who cares whether a friend very carefully helped you wheel quickly to it?

As I said earlier, there needs to be a procedure, there need to be checks scheduled, and people need to be doing them.

Story Time

When I first moved into my apartment building, my name appeared on a list of people who weren’t to leave in a fire, because I couldn’t move very quickly – in all drills I was to wait for the fire department to come get me. A number of people in the building, especially elderly people on the upper floors, are to wait this way – they are evacuated from their balconies. This works because the building is constructed so that it’s very difficult for a fire to get out of the section in which it starts – a lot of thought went into protecting residents and making sure that they’re safe in their apartments for an extended period of time.

I don’t have a balcony, as I live on the ground floor. I now leave through the building’s front door by myself anyway, but I didn’t feel especially unsafe when I didn’t because I knew that there was a procedure and I saw by what happened during the fire drills that it worked. I trusted it.

But I don’t have that level of trust in movie theatres, or even concert venues. Sorry. If the manager of one (preferably more) of them is willing to show me an emergency evacuation plan for something like fire that includes procedures for ensuring that everything is set up so that all patrons are able to get out safely, including the schedule for how often it’s all checked to see that it runs smoothly, and evidence that people are checking it frequently…maybe I’ll change my mind.

Difficult Questions

It’s crossed my mind a couple of times since hearing about the Paris shootings that, for my part, if I’m worried about falling and losing valuable time in any sort of emergency in venues like movie theatres or concert halls like Bataclan Concert Hall , then maybe I shouldn’t be going to movies and plays alone.

That’s a hard pill to swallow, and the “victim-blaming” rhetoric of “It you don’t want this to happen, then you shouldn’t…” isn’t lost on me. I don’t like it and I’m not sure how to reconcile it as these threats, however statistically rare they are, require us to ask difficult questions about how we can make public places as safe as possible for everyone, and what role we all play in that.

It’s definitely something that I will continue to think about.

Thoughts and prayers are with the people of Paris.

 

 

 

 

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