AUSTIN (KXAN) — Joel Barish got a frantic video call from his wife Friday night.
“I saw ambulances, and I wasn’t sure what was going in,” he told us through an ASL interpreter with Communication by Hand, LLC.
His wife was near the Holla Mode food truck on Barton Springs Road when a car crashed through a group of people outside. Barish said his wife, who is also deaf, did not have to go to the hospital, but people fell on top of her.
Barish said his wife just began working for Sorensen, a communication device company based in Salt Lake City. The company said 10 of its employees, who were in Austin for a conference for the Deaf community, were injured.
“Austin is one of the best places for the Deaf,” said Barish, but he added he was surprised and frustrated to not see an ASL interpreter on scene Friday. He said there was an Austin Police officer there who could sign but not an official interpreter.
“The officer was pretty good at expression, but they had trouble receiving what we were saying,” he said. “Everything was dark, the lights were going, and the deaf survivors were shaking and sometimes going fast. When victim services came, they had counseling for the victims, but they were writing and trying to have everybody be patient.”
The Austin Police Department directed us to submit a public information request for answers to our specific questions about ASL resources at the crash, but APD told us there are officers who are ASL-qualified. Per APD policy, ASL interpreters are “available to respond to scene upon request.”
The CEO for Communication by Hand, LLC said Austin’s first responders are typically very responsive with getting interpreters to incidents.
Barish said he and his wife are still shaken by Friday’s crash and hope deaf people in similar situations have more immediate access to interpreters.
“In the moment, victims are scared. Their minds aren’t working as well as they should. Their minds can’t work in the same capacity. They’re scared and uncomfortable,” he said.
Austin-Travis County EMS said its 911 call center receives calls from deaf patients through a third-party interpretation service, and there are also options to text 911 in an emergency. ATCEMS said it works to continue such services to interpret for responders on scene. If that method becomes unavailable, medics in the field will write on a piece of paper or type messages on a cell phone, the agency told KXAN in an email.