PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The deaf community in Rhode Island is calling for expanded access to public safety information after four members of Maine’s deaf community were gunned down in the Lewiston shootings.
Local leaders told 12 News that in situations like a shooting, making communications accessible can prevent the deaf community from being more vulnerable.
“In the moment we’re not aware of what’s happening, so then there’s a delay for the Deaf person to realize something’s going on,” said Michelle Cline, executive director of the R.I. Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
A cornhole tournament for deaf athletes was underway at Schemengees Bar and Grill when 40-year-old Robert Card allegedly opened fire. Billy Brackett, Bryan MacFarlane, Steve Vozzella, and Joshua Seal are among those who died at the tournament.
“This is the first time really that we’ve experienced this in a mass casualty incident,” Cline said.
Those who are deaf or hard of hearing rely on captioning or interpreters — and if those aren’t available, they’re left in the dark.
“That means [if] it happens very quickly, and it’s being reported, but we don’t have access to the captioning and the interpreters, that really impacts the deaf community as well,” said Sarah McGaughey of the Rhode Island School for the Deaf.
According to Cline and McGaughey, officials and journalists should use plain English to ensure information is accessible to all.
When asked if having an interpreter at press conferences is enough, Cline and McGaughey pointed out how sometimes even that person is excluded.
“The TV news, they zoomed in just on the speaker, and didn’t allow for the inclusion of seeing the interpreter,” Cline said. “We always have to advocate to be able to see the speaker and the interpreter on television.”
Some interpreters are considering traveling from Rhode Island to Maine to help the community in the aftermath of the shootings, but as of Friday, no decision had been made.
Both Cline and McGaughey said their staff knew some of the victims, because the deaf community is so tightly knit.
“I think it’s just important to provide that support, especially in such a small community as this is,” McGaughey said.