As Hurricane Irma was advancing on Florida, this was the message deaf residents of Manatee County received regarding a mandatory evacuation: "Help you at that time to use bear big." Jason Hurdich, a Clemson University professor and expert in American Sign Language, tells the Bradenton Herald he couldn't understand 95% of what a deaf interpreter was signing during the Sept. 8 briefing from the Manatee County Emergency Operations Center. County officials tell WPTV they were "in a pinch" to find a qualified professional interpreter for the briefing, so they asked an employee. AL.com reports interpretation duties fell to county lifeguard Marshall Greene, whose brother is deaf.
Hurdich says the results were "horrible and embarrassing." Greene spent most of the briefing signing complete nonsense while using the signs for "monsters" and "pizza." "Something went horribly wrong," says Charlene McCarthy, whose company, VisCom, typically provides deaf interpreters to the county. She says VisCom wasn't contacted to provide an interpreter for the briefing. The incident upset the deaf community as videos of the briefing—complete with translations of Greene's signing—made their way around the web. "Everyone was talking about it on social media, and everyone was shocked," McCarthy says. Now the deaf community is seeking an apology from the county. As for Greene, his family says he was willing to step in and help out during an emergency. (Read more sign language stories.)