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Manatee hiring sign language interpreting company for hurricane season

When Manatee County's sign language interpreter backed out at the last minute during Hurricane Irma last September, a county worker volunteered but he wasn't signing about a hurricane and shelters.

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. -- Manatee County is close to hiring a new sign language interpreting company.

When Manatee County’s sign language interpreter backed out at the last minute during Hurricane Irma last September, a county worker volunteered but he wasn’t signing about a hurricane and shelters.

“He was signing saying something totally different than I was saying... they said you need to get pizza,” said Robin DiSabatino, Manatee County Commissioner.

DiSabatino was the commission chair last September and during the televised announcement spoke to the community. She said even then, she felt something was wrong with the interpreter’s signing.

“I was saying a sentence he was signing a few words,” DiSabatino. “I was mortified and embarrassed. I wasn’t saying those things.”

“I honest to goodness thought it was an SNL skit,” said Julian Ignatowski, COO for King Interpreting Services out of Orlando. King is the company that the county is hiring to be the voice of the deaf in Manatee County.

Ignatowski said the interpreter is the lifeline of a person who can’t hear. “That’s the only message they’re getting. It better be on point, better be correct and it better be extremely accurate," he added.

Ignatowksi says interpreters go through a rigorous three-part certification process through the Registry of Interpretation for the Deaf.

There’s a written test, a performance test and hours spent in the field. They must also be college graduates. But Ignatowski said that still doesn’t mean they’re qualified for a job.

“We know from their resume and working with them, if they’re experienced in medical, send them to a medical assignment, but not experienced in legal nor qualified,” explained Ignatowski.

DiSabatino says the county is trying to get it right this hurricane season.

She said, “We’re very sorry and we’re working hard to make sure your needs are met.”

Several bills were filed during the last legislative session requiring a certified interpreter during emergency weather announcements on TV, but none made it through committee.

We asked Senate President Bill Galvano’s office why. We were told the bills were drafted too narrowly and it required interpreters to be certified by the state or national registry. There are 564 RID certified interpreters in Florida and right now there are not enough to go around.

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