A natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy can isolate anyone; the storm knocked out power, water, transportation, and connections among people. Ahead of the storm in New York City, government agencies attempted to use communication to minimize the danger for everyone, including the deaf and hard of hearing. In fact, the National Association of the Deaf specially commended emergency messaging made accessible via captioning and sign language interpreters.*

Isolated During the Storm

Once the storm hit, however, the communication barriers were fierce. I think a lot of us felt a sense of isolation during and after Hurricane Sandy. If you lost power, at night you may not have known what the world looked like outside your front door, let alone how friends and family in other neighborhoods were faring. Most people’s cell phones were functioning, and that allowed them to find or ask for information and check on others — making the battery life of your only source of connectivity a most precious commodity.

Hurricane Sandy “Was Cruel to New York’s Elderly

At CHC and within our new Center for Hearing and Aging, we know that people who are elderly — especially those who experience age-related hearing loss — face higher risks of isolation. Lifting people from places of isolation caused by hearing loss or communication challenges has always been CHC’s mission.

In the storm’s aftermath, the media’s consensus seems to be that the storm isolated and hit older people the hardest. Unfortunately, there are many sad stories attesting to that, such as those from the Lower East Side and Staten Island. It could have been a lot worse if volunteers hadn’t climbed high rises to bring necessities and support to older, stranded citizens.

Storm Stories and Recovery

CHC staff members are luckily safe after the storm, but not without our own stories of isolation, confusion, generosity, and hope.  Even though there’s been much good will, many people in NYC are not out of the dark and don’t yet the things they need, whether that’s food, warmth, gasoline, etc.

We hope life is getting a little closer to normal for you, as it is here at CHC. We’re working extra hard this week to help everyone who needs us to stay connected via hearing technology. Read about our extended walk-in hours to help accommodate anyone in the New York City area who needs urgent hearing aid fixes and repairs.

Lydia Callis and ASL Interpreting 

Lots of friends and family have asked staff members what we think about all the attention around Lydia Callis, Mayor Bloomberg’s American Sign Language interpreter. I know a lot of us think she was an excellent communicator. Said one of our psychotherapists, Sarah Lee, “I didn’t get all the hype because her sign was right on.” A Huffington Post writer, clearly not used to seeing sign language, described Callis as “mugging for the camera and gesturing wildly.” I don’t know ASL, but I’m exposed to it enough to know that Callis’ facial expressions and movements are part of the language. Personally, I think any extra awareness on modes of communication is positive.

What did you think of Callis specifically or the city’s emergency messaging in general? How did you fare through the storm?