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Interpreter Says Signing During Emergency Situations Is Long Overdue

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- A sign language interpreter is receiving overnight fame in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

She's been by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's side throughout the entire storm, keeping the hearing-impaired community informed.

Now, Twitter is abuzz with the name Lydia Callis, and there are even videos of her on YouTube.

Back here in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald used a sign language interpreter for the first time on Monday.

And while she's not after fame, she says signing during an emergency is long overdue.

During Fitzgerald's news conference Monday, Pittsburgh television viewers got their first glimpse of Joanne Sherer.

Sherer, head of Sign Language Interpreting Professionals, has been urging emergency officials to use her services for years. It's been a crusade because both of her parents are deaf.

"I knew that deaf people were not going to get the message," she said. "To have them call me up and say, 'I just saw the governor on TV; what'd the governor say? What's a matter? What's going on?' is frustrating to me," says Sherer.

Sherer says closed captioning isn't adequate for the thousands of deaf in our area because closed captioning can miss a lot. It's not the language of the deaf.

"People think that deaf people can read the text on the screen. It's not their first language," she says. "They prefer to see it in sign language; in their native language."

She's praising Fitzgerald for using her services, despite some awkward moments.

"Did I go slow enough for you?" Fitzgerald asked during the news conference. "I was worried I was going to go too fast."

As for Mayor Bloomberg's interpreter, Sherer says video sites shouldn't make fun of her because she is serving the deaf well.

"Her expressiveness got the message out accurately. She portrayed, she gave the message exactly as Mayor Bloomberg was giving it," Sherer said of Callis.

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