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

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

By Monette Benoit

Copyright by Monette Benoit, All Rights Reserved.

After Hurricane Katrina, Deaf Link and Kay Chiodo provided 24-hour onsite and remote sign interpreting in Texas shelters.

Part I posted on www.CRRbooks.com and www.monettebenoit.com began:

If you are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf/blind or do not understand English, you didn’t hear Katrina warnings. You didn’t see captioning on TV. Your world was very different.”

Part I ended: “Next we share more.” Amen: May it be so.

As Dan Heller, VP of Business Development loaded equipment, Kay called Polycom. Robert Hughes, Director Operations Video in Austin, and George Kawahara partnered with Deaf Link.

Succinctly, Kay stated, “We don’t have enough equipment; we can’t pay for it.” They asked, “What do you need?”

Kay replied with specifics; Hughes said, “You got it.” Equipment was drop-shipped, more than she requested, all donated.

Kay then phoned Jack Colley, Texas Director of Emergency Management. Jack was in meetings within Texas SOS, State Operations Center.

Kay spoke to Amanda, requesting Jack Colley receive this message: “Tell him we’re heading in; I really need to do this.”

Jack called Kay, “Whose nickel are you going to put this on?”

Slowly, Kay said, “Well, I guess ours.”

Jack replied, “That’s the right answer.”

Kay asked, “Can I use your name?” Jack, “Yes.”

Again, Kay was ready to drop, roll and run forward to help thousands of deaf and non-English proficient people through multiple Katrina-related emergencies.

When Kay ‘hit’ KellyUSA (our closed San Antonio Air Force Base), she declared, “We’re here to provide access for deaf.”

Monette, you couldn’t find who was in charge. KellyUSA was so busy; people asked, “By whose authority are you here?”

Kay answered: “Well, the State would like to see us provide access for deaf.”

Kay wasn’t lying; she wasn’t stretching the truth.

Prior to providing remote sign interpreting services, Deaf Link needed computers, cameras, high-speed internet connections, lines dropped. Until then, Kay walked the crowds looking for deaf and deaf/blind evacuees.

Communication was a huge problem for everyone, including deaf. Everything in each shelter needed access. Lack of communication resulted in people struggling without information, food, medicine, essentials necessary for survival. Later, when interpreters arrived, onsite sign interpreters were invaluable. Unfortunately, interpreters couldn’t be there 24/7 each day for processing, counseling or full communication.

Before Kay finished installing their first site, KellyUSA, a doctor pulled Kay Chiodo to interpret for a deaf person who had been there several days. The deaf man had cuts on his feet; he was in the water; he didn’t know tetanus shots were available.

One deaf man fainted from lack of food, not knowing food was free.

Police surrounded the halls; he didn’t want to go to jail for stealing and did not eat for three days. They discovered he was diabetic. He had not received medications because could he not hear public announcements.

Counseling was offered for adults and children. Without interpreter access, deaf children missed out. Hearing children of deaf adults could not participate when parents did not have access to announcements.

One woman communicated with puppets to children; Kay worked to have those puppets accessible.

Deaf Link learned “what it takes to hit the ground running” to provide access for people with disabilities and people without English proficiency.

Texas was the first state in the nation to provide these services, and Deaf Link launched the precedent. Tech Trans from Houston partnered with Deaf Link to provide foreign language translation.

Doctors needed access to multiple languages. Tech Trans and Deaf Link provided language access and with one click, individuals received their foreign language.

Kay shared KellyUSA was a breeze with Time Warner dropping lines. Time Warner jumped through hoops; they and SBC dropped cables. They helped Kay find chairs for many individuals and for a pregnant deaf mother. “Their teamwork was a labor of love.”

As Kay Chiodo drove to Houston, SBC’s Southwest Director of Homeland Security, Adam Cavazos shared names, contacts and numbers. Kay learned the politics of getting into a center. Kay received an introduction to Smart City who dropped lines for Deaf Link in Houston and Dallas.

Kay said, “Sometimes you would think we were family.”

Kay walked in the door, used Jack Colley’s (Texas Director of Emergency Management) name and the State saying they want this access for evacuees, and Texas wants to ensure evacuees receive the best services.

In Dallas, Kay and Dan spotted a Toys-R-Us truck outside the Reunion Plaza Center.

She knew they would distribute toys, but deaf parents wouldn’t let children take toys if they didn’t know the toys were free.

Kay experienced this within the Dome: When children were bored, volunteers distributed donated coloring books, but deaf parents took the items from children, returning them because they didn’t know the items were free.

Kay walked around, signing “free, free” to deaf parents.

Leaving, dead tired, Kay strolled over to the Toys-R-Us staff, her voice raised, “Okay. Hands in the air; here’s what you’re going to run into with parents who are deaf.”

Kay taught each the sign for ‘free’, so they would hand out toys to “all the children.” Once each person could sign ‘free’, with their hands in the air, Kay left for her next site.

Kay emphasized how access to information is critical and life-altering in emergencies.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was one of the few to seek out deaf. Through Deaf Link, deaf communicated directly to the Mayor.

One lady described ‘losing’ her son. She begged Nagin to find his body.

This deaf mother evacuated into flooding New Orleans streets with her three-year old son hanging onto her neck. She had a set of twins, one child in each hand.

Each arm raised high, she firmly held a child and struggled to keep their heads above rising water. As the sky darkened, snakes and objects floated as she worked to rescue her family.

It was dark when she discovered that her three-year had slipped off her back into the water.

She tried to find her son, one child still in each hand, struggling to keep their heads above the fast-moving, high water. Each time she picked up a floating shirt, she held a dead body.

The mother’s body shook while she signed, speaking to New Orleans Mayor Nagin.

Kay interpreted: “Please help me find my son, so I can bury him.”

Then the mother thanked Nagin for listening. Kay believes Nagin felt the hurt of everyone he talked to.

“Monette, there was plenty of hurt in the shelters.”

Mayor Ray Nagin’s eyes teared as the mother signed to him that she felt she was punished for being deaf because she couldn’t hear her son’s cries.

The mayor sat next to Kay, shoulders slumped, Nagin’s hands folded in his lap.

And Kay softly said to Mayor Nagin: “The stories are right there on their hands. They just need an interpreter to help them share what they are saying to you and to each person.”

Kay Chiodo and Dan Heller, www.DeafLink.com, may be reached 210-590-7446.

‘Katrina – Deaf Link, Remote Sign Interpeting; Drop, Roll, Run Forward, Part I,’ March 2006 may be accessed on http://crrbooks.com/newsdesk_info.php?newsdesk_id=53

‘Katrina – Deaf Link, Remote Sign Interpeting; Drop, Roll, Run Forward, Part III,’ May 2006 may be accessed on http://crrbooks.com/newsdesk_info.php?newsdesk_id=55

Monette, Court Reporting Whisperer, may be reached: Monette@ARTCS.com and Monette@CRRbooks.com

Monette Benoit, B. B.A., CCR, CRI, CPE, Paralegal

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