A few months ago, as Hurricane Irma was bearing down on Florida and it looked as if Manatee County was going to take a direct hit the geniuses in my county commission decided to hold a press conference warning residents to evacuate. At the presser was a sign language interpreter who warned hearing impaired residents of monsters, pizza and said the phrase, “help you at that time to use bear big.” In other words, it was a disaster and could have cost lives; luckily the eye of the storm missed us and we were all safe. Now, however, just 45 minutes north of Manatee County the Tampa Police Department (TPD) is facing their own sign language interpreter controversy.
Last week, the TPD held a live presser announcing that they had arrested the Seminole Heights serial killer in Tampa. During the presser an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, Derlyn Roberts, said things like:
Fifty-one hours ago, zero 12 22 (indecipherable) murder three minutes in 14 weeks ago in old (indecipherable) murder four five 55,000 plea 10 arrest murder bush (indecipherable) three age 24.
Rachelle Settambrino, a hearing impaired professor who teaches ASL at the University of South Florida, was absolutely appalled by what she saw on television:
She sat up there and waved her arms like she was singing Jingle Bells. I was disappointed, confused, upset and really want to know why the city of Tampa’s chief of police who is responsible for my safety and the safety of the entire community did not check her out.
The TPD, however, is not taking responsibility for Roberts’ gibberish. TPD spokesperson Janelle McGregor told the Tampa Bay Times,”We did not request an interpreter for a news conference on the 28th.” That’s right, according to the spokesperson Roberts just, what?, showed up, stood next to the police chief and mayor in front of a bank of cameras and started signing all on her own? Yeah, that seems logical.
Sadly, Florida does not require ASL interpreters to be registered through the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, so it isn’t a surprise that these things keep happening. Unless the legislature passes a law requiring such certification any random person can go in front of the public, wave their arms around and relay misinformation to the hearing impaired community and why not? It’s not as if Florida isn’t already the laughingstock of the country.