Hurricane Katrina – Deaf Link, Remote Sign Interpreting Drop, Roll, Run Forward, Part I of III

Hurricane Katrina – Deaf Link, Remote Sign Interpreting
– Drop, Roll, Run Forward, Part I of III

By Monette Benoit

Copyright by Monette Benoit, All Rights Reserved.

If you are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf/blind or do not understand English, you didn’t hear Katrina warnings. You didn’t see captioned crawlers on TV.

You didn’t hear messages as vehicles moved through the streets notifying residents to evacuate. Your world was very different.

As chaotic, unorganized evacuations began, Kay Chiodo, CEO and president of her company Deaf Link (, rolled out to implement 24-hour remote sign interpreting in San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Texas – all pro bono.

The task was enormous; Kay’s actions, those around Deaf Link, changed the world of children and adults. We want to learn from Kay and Deaf Link. We want to understand.

On Friday, August 26, 2005, Louisiana’s governor declared a state of emergency. On Monday, Katrina made landfall. Wednesday, August 31, plans were initiated to bring evacuees to Texas. On Saturday, September 3, buses arrived in Houston.

As people scrambled to escape, many rushed forward. I have worked with Kay and her companies Vital Signs and Deaf Link for 15 years providing CART, helping where I may.

In 1993, Kay embraced me into the deaf community at a Deaf Block Party, as I stood alone.

On November 23, 2005, Kay acquired a new son-in-law, Mike Houston, whom I met October 2004 at the NCRA Phoenix teaching convention. (Articles: “Serendipity and Fate of Mike Houston,” January 2006, and “Driving Miss Monette,” January 2005 may be assessed at Direct links are included below.)

We tease Kay when there’s an event, not only does she drop and roll, Kay drops, rolls, runs forward. Kay Chiodo was raised in an orphanage; there seeds were planted for her passion of communicating with deaf.

After Hurricane Katrina, I helped offsite with communications, sharing facts, details.

We cried; we had nightmares from what we heard. Had Deaf Link not been inside Texas evacuation sites, events would have been very different.

Technology, Kay and remote services changed access. They changed the world we know. They did.

To get this story, I waited, phoning Kay’s home: “Just talk to me. Tell me, so I can share.” I typed, coaxing Kay to share.

As I fact-checked December 2005, people around us were out Christmas shopping.

Kay emailed, “Monette, remember we also gave doctors and police the ability to communicate with persons who were not English-proficient. They asked for Spanish, Cajun French and Vietnamese language interpreters. We helped there too. Oh, and I also tap dance with a flower in my ear.”

This is Kay’s story:

When Deaf Link knew Texas shelters were opening, Kay conferenced her Board of Directors: “Will you back me? We’re going to hit the shelters because we need to. There was a plain old need to do it because we can; we can make each accessible.”

“Ten percent of the American population is deaf; we knew they would be there. Who would be the ones who wouldn’t know to evacuate? It’s going to be deaf, blind. When the TV broadcasts ‘beep, beep,’ and there’s an emergency, you’re out of luck if you can’t hear or see it.”

Prior to providing remote interpreting, Deaf Link needed computers, Internet connections and cameras. Until lines were dropped, Kay walked the crowds, looking for people who are deaf and deaf/blind.

Several Astrodome volunteers posted signs on boards they stuck in one trash can. Other shelters taped signs, hung on a few walls.

At the KellyUSA shelter in San Antonio, as Kay unpacked next to In-Take, doctors brought deaf people to Deaf Link. Volunteers and emergency workers were processing “endless lines of evacuees asking names, addresses, who were you separated from – putting information into a national database to locate other evacuees. Data helped reunite deaf family members who became lost in the shuffle.”

Whenever we spoke, Kay shared shocking, stunning, horrifying facts and events.

The first time, Kay was climbing up a stairwell in Houston’s Astrodome, prepping to leave for Dallas. We spoke multiple times that day as she was working.

Four days later, Kay was still in Houston. I continued to phone, asking how she was, how could I help? Kay was on the road for six days.

When we spoke, Kay’s voice was hoarse; I heard tears.

Then Kay would say, “I’ve got to go, Monette. I need to go back.”

I listened on her phone as Kay sought people who needed assistance.

Kay spoke to technicians, volunteers, requesting, arguing, insisting how to install equipment in a new place, sight unseen, prior to her arrival. Often there were problems. Kay took it all in, collected names, amassed knowledge.

And Kay Chiodo met unforgettable, grateful individuals – who would have had very different Katrina experiences had Deaf Link not been onsite and offsite, providing remote services 24/7.

Kay met Felix in the KellyUSA shelter after Louisiana nursing home staff abandoned residents. Felix is afraid of the dark.

“If you’re deaf and in the dark, you can’t see others.” Felix always carries “an itty-bitty” flashlight in his pants pocket.

When electricity failed, water was rising. Felix didn’t know where his two elderly friends were, one wheelchair-bound, the other using a walker. Without his flashlight, Felix wouldn’t have found them as they screamed.

Felix carried one woman from her wheelchair; the other lady hung on his back, across his shoulders as Felix went down the stairs. Felix waded through high water, toward a rooftop.

They arrived together. Felix wanted to introduce Kay to the two ladies. The ladies had just showered and sat on cots when Kay approached.

Kay asked, “Would you like for me to interpret anything before I leave for Houston?”

One lady said, “Sweetie, we don’t need you to do that. He can read our eyes. He’s our silent hero; we love him.”

Felix crying, dropped on one knee, kissed the lady’s hand, signing, “I love you.”

The lady voiced, “Sweetie, we know he does.” Felix was their hero.

Inside Houston’s Astrodome, a deaf/blind lady sat rocking on a cot, signing, “Help me, help me.”

Kay signed into her hand, “Okay, okay.”

The lady grabbed Kay’s torn shirt; she hung so tight, Kay couldn’t communicate. The woman wouldn’t let go.

Kay said, “You couldn’t help but cry.”

Kay kept signing, “OK, stay, will.”

Kay’s leg had to touch the woman; she clung to Kay. She’d flail out to ensure Kay’s face was there.

“To live in darkness, to be thrown into water, then to be separated – – ”

After the lady’s information was entered into the database, she found the sister she had been separated from during evacuation.

Kay softly shared: “It’s funny, Monette, hours, days went by so fast because you’re caught up in this emotional turmoil. You forget you haven’t slept, eaten. It’s like a wave from each person. It renews you. You have something you have to do. You do it because that’s what you’re supposed to do.”

Kay may be reached at and 210-590-7446.

Part II: We share more.

‘Hurricane Katrina – Deaf Link, Remote Sign Interpreting, Drop, Roll, Run Forward Part II’ may be accessed on

‘Hurricane Katrina – Deaf Link, Remote Sign Interpeting; Drop, Roll, Run Forward, Part III,’ May 2006 may be accessed on

“Serendipity and Fate of Mike Houston,” January 2006:

“Driving Miss Monette,” February 2005:

Monette, the Court Reporting Whisperer, may be reached: and

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