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September 22, 2004

Interpreter helped keep residents up-to-date on Hurricane Frances

From: Palm Beach Post, United States - Sep 22, 2004

By Victoria Malmer

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Amy Hair speaks volumes without opening her mouth.

The Lantana woman, 43, is an interpreter for the deaf, working throughout Florida interpreting elementary school lessons, Broadway plays, seminars and news on TV during emergencies such as Hurricane Frances.

During the hurricane, she worked with the Emergency Operations Center, keeping the deaf informed of the location of the storm, shelters, and the details of breaking news.

"Sometime when you are watching a TV news broadcast, turn off the volume and try to keep up just by reading the captions," she said. "Having an interpreter is like turning up the volume for deaf people. They get 65 percent of what I'm signing by my facial expressions."

She said the captioning scrolls by too fast for some people, and the wording sometimes gets confused during times of crisis.

She works at Berkshire Elementary, which has about 40 deaf students, she said. Before that, she worked for 14 years interpreting at John I. Leonard High School.

Hair has interpreted for many political figures, including President George W. Bush, former President Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and Dick Cheney.

On weekends, she interprets at classes and seminars, such as scuba certification and AIDS symposiums.

Weekends are also when she interprets Broadway plays with co-worker Nathan Hay-Southwell, in venues from Orlando to Naples to Fort Lauderdale. Sometimes they sign at three shows in one weekend. She's been interpreting Broadway plays for 11 years and eight venues.

"I love my job," she said. "If I could do it all again, I wouldn't change a thing. I get to learn every day. I get to be creative, and work with people I like, too."

Before a Broadway production comes to town, she learns the songs, playing the CDs on her car stereo until she and her three kids know all the words by heart. She also studies each play, and attends opening night so she fully understands all the nuances.

She wears dark clothes to sign at the plays. "We try to be unobtrusive," she said. Her audience watches her every move and facial expression, and the action on stage, to get the full Broadway experience.

She began signing after she graduated from high school. She received a degree in interpreting from Golden West College in Huntington Beach, Calif. After years of interpreting "everywhere," she's now nationally certified, which puts her work in great demand. Now, she says, she has to turn down more jobs than she can accept.

During the storm, she was on WPTV-Channel 5 nearly nonstop, interpreting what the TV anchors were saying about Hurricane Frances, and when and where to seek shelter. She worked almost nonstop for four days she said, taking one break to sleep when a friend came and filled in for her on the air.

"After the storm, I had 210 e-mails from people, thanking me for keeping them informed during a scary time," she said.

"I have the best job in the world," she said. "The best part is being the link between the deaf and the Broadway shows," she said. "We help bring Broadway to a whole new audience."

Copyright © 2004, The Palm Beach Post. All rights reserved.