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Interpreter Served as Lifeline to Deaf Community During Fires

For those who've watched fire coverage on television in San Diego this week, one woman's face was seen at every county press conference. But even though she was ever present, she never uttered a word.

Interpreter Served as Lifeline to Deaf Community During Fires

For those who've watched fire coverage on television in San Diego this week, one woman's face was seen at every county press conference...but even though she was ever present, she never uttered a word. That woman is Joane Cosentino -- a sign language interpreter. KPBS Border Reporter Amy Isackson shares her story .

Joane Cosentino estimates she signed for at least twenty hours straight during the fires, translating emergency information for San Diego County's more than 35,000d deaf and hearing impaired.

Cosentino: (translated) My back is a little sore. My arms are fine. Its a good thing I have a heating blanket at home, cause I've slept with it every night. It works out.

The county contracted Cosentino to provide sign language translation. It’s the first time the county has provided the service.

People who work with San Diego's deaf community say it’s an outgrowth of the Cedar Fire when San Diego's deaf and hearing impaired were left to fend for themselves for emergency information.

Cosentino: (Translated) News stations said the coverage was covered by closed captioning.

Joni Dunn is with Deaf Community Services. She says about 20,000 members of San Diego's deaf community cannot read English and the captions are often garbled or incomplete.

Dunn: (translated) We heard of one person who walked out there door and just by happenstance saw a police officer or sheriff or someone telling everyone to evacuate. Had they not walked out their door, they may not have gotten the message. They ended up writing back and forth with the police officer.

Cosentino says the biggest challenge -- more so than long hours -- was relaying precise information quickly. And, she says, everyone spoke really fast.

Cosentino: With this situation, we didn't have process time. Its, here it is, take it. The spelling of the cities and the closures is more difficult because you're spelling. There's no set signs for the cities of the areas. So you're behind while you're spelling while they're throwing out other names. So, it is processing, hanging onto the information that they're telling me and relaying the message that I was just given. So it's a lot of work.

Cosetino says both her parents are deaf.  She took this assignment out of a deep sense of responsibility.

Cosentino: Why not share my services and my skills?

Both of Cosentino's parents live outside San Diego now. But she says they watched her all week.

Cosentino: They were ecstatic. Cause growing up we never had anything like that.

Cosetino says a few people have told her she was their lifeline during the fires.

Cosentino: There was one gentleman who was deaf and blind. He's legally blind. But he had to come up to the screen to see the interpreter. He couldn't read the captions. So, he was able to respond to what was being said

Cosentino says the man was able to evacuate.

She says the entire deaf community the mayor and the county supervisors for providing the service.

Amy Isackson, KPBS News.

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