Texas committee member recommends more ASL resources

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Robin Orlowski, a member of the Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities, said the food truck crash on Barton Springs Road in April prompted her to push for change.

“It’s a draft recommendation to require certified ASL interpreters to be dispatched to a site with deaf survivors,” she said, while holding a print-out of the document she wrote up herself.

Eleven people from the deaf community got hurt when investigators said two cars collided, sending one vehicle into a group of pedestrians outside a food truck on a busy Friday night.

Witnesses said there was no certified ASL interpreter on site. Police said an officer who knows how to sign was there.

“So when that happened, of course it spread through the community like wildfire,” said Otis Sizemore with the Texas Deaf Chamber of Commerce. We spoke with him through an interpreter with Communication by Hand, LLC. “There were many people who were disappointed, because the process itself was broken.”

Officer Israel Garcia with the Austin Police Department could not comment on what happened the night of the crash itself, but said when an interpreter can’t get to a scene, first responders typically rely on written communication on phones or tablets.

“We’ll call first for an officer that’s sign language certified. If it’s a call where there’s a serious incident, we’ll call city services for a sign interpreter,” he said. “If we do have someone who signs avail, we’ll call, but nine times out of 10, we don’t have availability for that, so we do mainly rely on notepad communication and text communication.”

Sizemore said that’s not the best communication tool for people in the deaf community.

“They were using written language, but that created a lot of confusion,” he said, adding it slows the communication process, and the written English language does not always translate directly into ASL.

That’s what Orlowski said prompted her to propose requiring certified interpreters to respond to scenes.

Officer Garcia said at present, APD will send someone with ASL knowledge to major incidents, but for non-emergency calls or misdemeanor offense, the department will rely on in-person written communication.

While Orlowski’s proposal is in its early stages, Sizemore said he’s also working with APD on a long-term communication training solution.

“The Texas Deaf Chamber of Commerce is working with APD and an array of groups to find the best approach for successful communication modes and that will be incorporated at the academy level for new cadets,” he said.

Orlowski said her recommendation is set to go before the committee this month.

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