Florida county's fake ASL translator has become a sensation

Hearing-impaired people looking for help didn't find any, because their sign language translator couldn't sign

Published September 18, 2017 9:12AM (EDT)

 (Facebook/Manatee County Government)
(Facebook/Manatee County Government)

In times of crisis, those of us not in the danger zone have enjoyed what has become a time-honored tradition: Sign language interpreters. It started with Lydia Callis, who stole the show during a performance before Hurricane Sandy in 2012. She's one of a few interpreters who have highlight reels devoted to their craft. But there is one major requirement to sign language interpreters: They have to know what they're doing.

Florida resident Marshall Greene is not fluent in American Sign Language, but that apparently didn't disqualify him from translating two Sept. 8 news conferences about Hurricane Irma. Greene, a lifeguard who has a deaf brother, was seen saying things like, "help you at that time to use bear big" and talking about "pizza," according to Alabama's AL.com.

Deaf residents watching at home were not pleased by the disastrous display.

The New York Times noted more frustrations from hearing impaired people who were not helped whatsoever.

“I was watching the interpreter and seeing him spelling and spelling and spelling, and not fully signing,” said Ms. Beacham-Hooie, who lives in Bradenton, Fla., about 45 miles south of Tampa, Fla. “It was very hard to follow.”

She turned to the internet for more information and relied on her sister in Nevada. “I asked other people if the hurricane was actually headed straight for us,” she said. “I had no idea.”

Phyllis Corbett, 57, another Bradenton resident who is deaf, said through a translator that the interpreter was “totally unqualified.”

“It really scared me,” she said. “We’re in an emergency situation here. It was a life and death thing.”

According to the Times, Manatee County couldn't find an ASL interpreter and couldn't hire neighboring Sarasota County's interpreter, either. In the words of Manatee County officials, they were "in a pinch."

By Jeremy Binckes

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Florida Hurricane Irma Sign Language