Florida Sign Language Interpreter Delivers Warnings About Pizza At Irma Press Conference

Deaf residents of Manatee County, Florida, got a very different interpretation of an evacuation briefing as Hurricane Irma barreled down on the area, with useful safety information supplanted by...well, not that.


“We just need you to be safe,” said the Board of County Commissioners’ Robin DiSabatino during the September 8th briefing, adding that those in low-lying areas should seek higher ground or shelters.

“Pizza,” the yellow-clad interpreter signed. “Bear monster.”

According to the New York Times, the man was identified as Marshall Greene, a lifeguard with a deaf brother who the county acknowledged wasn’t exactly thoroughly vetted before being thrust into the spotlight. Officials claimed they secured Greene’s services in a rush, since there was “little time to find an interpreter before the news conference.” Little time? It’s not like Irma just popped out from behind the stove without warning; her arrival was foretold more than a week ahead of time. But Greene’s bosses knew he had a passing understanding of sign language, and that was apparently good enough for them.

Charlene McCarthy, the founder of a sign language interpreting agency in Florida who regularly provides interpreters for the county, was disturbed by Greene’s performance and also confused as to why she wasn’t consulted.

“It was horribly unnerving for me,” she told Tampa news station WFLA. “To watch that, knowing I could provide a qualified, certified interpreter.”

“I don’t know why they didn’t call,” she added.

McCarthy wasn’t the only one upset by Greene’s performance.

“It was atrocious,” said Howard Rosenblum, the chief executive of the National Association of the Deaf. From the Times:

Mr. Rosenblum tried to decipher the beginning, starting when officials announced the evacuation, but he could only make out a jumble of disconnected phrases. “On that news” was followed by “need evacuate” and later, “pray wait water.”


Just saying: This would never have happened in New York.



As someone who is currently in school to be an ASL interpreter, this situation is one that happens daily. The only difference is that this one was televised instead of happening in a private doctor’s office or K-12 classroom. Deaf and hard of hearing people deserve qualified and certified interpreters who are held to professional standards through the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. People could have died due to this person’s “interpretation”.