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

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

By Monette Benoit

Copyright by Monette Benoit, All Rights Reserved.

Hurricane Katrina continues to dominate the news. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Kay Chiodo, Deaf Link personnel, and I kept our heads down as facts were initially broadcast 24/7.

We listened, working to help others, incorporating new technology, working with emergency national, state, local agencies and volunteer organizations – all grouped overnight in numerous locations – to include abandoned facilities.

Sometimes the only thing one can do before jumping into a new trench is listen – unless that person is deaf or hard of hearing.

As 2006 began, writing this article in February, we continued to sort facts with what was shared, what could be shared …

I am still humbled by what we learned — what could have, should have and might have ‘been’ done – to help more, to do more.

Now we know. Now we know. Yes?

Deaf Link installed remote sign interpreting setups within multiple San Antonio, Houston and Dallas shelters – sometimes without cooperation of all people involved.

In some cases, no one seemed to be in charge; many ‘real-time’ decisions were precedents.

Sometimes, after Deaf Link had worked with people in charge explaining the need and technology, a new group or person was in charge only hours later, and we would be back to square one.

Deaf Link created 24-hour remote sign interpreting as approximately 750,000 people arrived in Texas. Many of us watched TV late at night to see what was unfolding – what was being shared. Many of us were on the phone with each other to ‘hear’ and document what was unfolding.

(Part I and II may be found at and with direct links included below.)

Kay and Deaf Link were on the road six days, “Your own time; your own dime.”

Converged Technology Application Partners assisted Deaf Link’s installations. CTAP, Deaf Link’s tech support, met Kay, installing Deaf Link’s equipment. Yet Kay still wishes she could have done more.

Kay Chiodo, Deaf Link’s CEO, is the consummate person to drop, roll and run.

Deaf Link helped HOH, hard-of-hearing, who lost hearing aids.

Many HOH lost their hearing aids when batteries became wet or ran down. Often HOH sat alone, waiting, not asking for help. They sat, waiting.

Announcements blared: “If your social security numbers ends in –, go to –.”

Hard-of-hearing individuals (with good aids) heard garbled announcements.

Those who are deaf, of course, didn’t hear the messages at all and did not know information was being shared within each facility.

Deaf individuals volunteered to help deaf evacuees communicate, and deaf volunteers used Deaf Link’s technology to talk to (hearing) people in charge.

When Kay hit Dallas, Deaf Link’s lines initially were in medical areas. Then FEMA requested a location near Deaf Link. FEMA realized deaf were not receiving housing and social security services.

“There were many other services people needed access to other, in addition to medical.”

Security also utilized Deaf Link, 24/7.

In a few instances, after lines were dropped and Deaf Link had helped people and continued to serve new arrivals, without notice – deaf were moved, relocated.

Each time, deaf and HOH (hard-of-hearing individuals) would have to be found and the process had to begin again.

One day, deaf were organized to be sent to another facility where higher medical care was needed.

Deaf, however, wanted to stay in public arenas to be near children, families and – their quote – “normal” people. Deaf didn’t need higher care or want to be segregated.

Within the KellyUSA facility, some thought it would be great to have deaf only in one area. Many of the deaf adults and children had endured traumatic experiences with hearing during the storm and travels – people they became attached to – and they requested to remain with those new friends.

Deaf evacuees, already traumatized, were often separated from family or friends prior to arriving at shelters.

Facts shared, too, that that blind with working dogs were separated from their ‘ears’ when the dogs were not allowed on the bus after mandatory evacuations. (One incident documents, fact, that a working dog was shot when the blind person would not leave the dog.)

Kay went to KellyUSA’s security, explaining their communication mode is here.

“It’s important they remain with people they bonded with. KellyUSA understood. Whoever was trying to move deaf, dropped it.”

“At the Astrodome, some felt deaf should be gathered and herded.”

Kay can see how that “may be logical to some, but unless they could take hearing people deaf were attached to with them, it would be a challenge. They did move deaf – to another location away …”

“Everyone had good intentions, but it came down to asking the person. No one can make a group decision like that; it’s an individual preference. People were giving their best to everybody. Once services were established and deaf knew where everything was – all deaf had to do was sign they were deaf – using our technology, they instantly had equal access!”

“Deaf, HOH, deaf/blind, people non-English-proficient taught us to be prepared. Through their suffering, they paved the way for a nation to be better prepared. We learned, and Monette, sometimes the hardest lessons are the best learned.”

“Deaf Link was communication accessible alerting Texas deaf and HOH, a first in the nation, for Hurricane Rita, almost three weeks after Katrina.”

Writing these articles on Hurricane Katrina and Texas volunteers, I confirmed Deaf Link never received compensation for their services in any Texas shelter. Reluctantly, after three months, they removed all equipment in December 2005.

When Hurricane Katrina yellow buses originally rolled into Texas, I assisted with information-coordination.

Many court reporters, professionals, HOH (hard of hearing) contacted me asking what they could do.

I worked with sign interpreters gathering facts, stats, listing new shelters within Texas as they were created in real-time.

I continued to phone Deaf Link’s San Antonio office asking, “Now what? What’s next?”

Hours were devoted to which mayor was having a press conference, which group, company, church or agency would or would not be assisting – Who was really in charge?

Sometimes we heard things we could not repeat – (and still can’t).

Often we kept our head down, just as we started, working to help. Sometimes we just listened to each other.

Volunteers were having nightmares. Many felt guilty for not being able to do more. We were having sleepless nights; we needed to eat before accepting new Katrina assignments.

We did not discuss each was turning down ‘real work’ (compensated jobs) to help – many were passionate in their need to volunteer.

After weeks, sometimes numb and stunned, we continued to volunteer, listening, sharing time with each other – while thousands continued to stand in lines seeking food, their family and their loved pets.

After listening and sharing, we would focus back to our task, moving forward with our next Katrina request.

One night Kay phoned, “We’re having a sleepover. Bring your pillow, Monette. Really.”

Running remote services in each shelter, volunteers slept on the floor in her office. Not one complained; each person was thankful to put in more hours.

I gathered detailed information to send donations to deaf/HOH in each Texas city including shelters, churches, deaf volunteers, HOH, special-needs patients.

Most requested items were Bibles, toys, batteries and shampoo (in that order). Socks, underwear and bras sold out in San Antonio, the 8th largest city in the United States.

Eleanor Mitchell, RPR, of Washington emailed me, then typed a sheet asking for donations, which she distributed in her neighborhood. Eleanor mailed her neighbor’s donations to Texas.

Jean Melone of New Jersey wrote asking how she could help. Students in her school, Steno Tech Career Institute, gathered items, then shipped their donations to Texas.

Jeff Hutchins (the man who helped to invent broadcast captioning, and in my opinion, did more to tip our entire occupation) sent an email to me, “How can we best help?”

Jeff forwarded my reply to Accessible Media Industry Coalition.

Jennifer Tiziani of SHHH, now HLA (Hearing Loss Assocation) in Northwoods, Wisconsin, and many SHHH members responded, mailing items “from their closets and homes.”

One deaf woman responded to an email I wrote Jeff. She wrote me offering to share her small New York City apartment with a deaf family.

Many, many emailed me that sitting in their dry home, dry town, listening, they had to do something.

Some wrote me that all they could offer was prayers.

You need to know: You did make a huge difference. Deaf Link did pave a new path. Our work is not yet done. Bless each of you who donated your time, your passion, your hearts and your ears.

“There but for the grace of God go I.”

Kay Chiodo may be reached through, 210-590-7446.

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

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

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