LONG BEACH TOWNSHIP — Amanda Klinger said she knew when she walked into Gov. Chris Christie’s town hall meeting Tuesday it was time to get loud about being deaf.
Klinger, 39, of Beach Haven, lost her hearing almost 14 years ago, the same year she opened her business Paint a Pot in the Beach Haven Gardens section of Long Beach Township.
On Tuesday, she was looking for Christie’s help in bettering communication for deaf people with government agencies such as FEMA, with which she’d had issues, but said she wasn’t surprised when she arrived at the St. Francis of Assisi Parish Community Center in the township’s Brant Beach section and there was no interpreter or caption system.
“This is my world. I’m very sensitive about this,” said Klinger, who communicates using a combination of the English language, sign language and lip reading.
When she arrived at the town hall meeting, she said she told Aileen P. Egan, regional director of legislative intergovernmental affairs for Christie, that she was deaf. Egan made an announcement asking if there was anyone who could perform sign language, but there was no one in attendance, Klinger said.
“I shouldn’t have to ask for a signer,” she said.
She sat in the second row and waited and watched, unable to know what the governor was saying. When Christie started taking questions, Klinger said, she thought it was her chance.
“I raised my hand and the people around me were also raising their hands for me so I could ask Governor Christie for help,” she said.
But she wasn’t chosen to ask a question by Christie.
So Klinger went home and wrote a letter to Christie and posted it on Facebook where she said “I could have understood you at the town meeting. Unfortunately, I am Deaf. There were no captions or interpreter provided. What’s funny. ... That’s what I wanted to ask of you today. I have had so many communication problems with FEMA SBA ...”
“I can’t believe that over 400 people have liked my letter on Facebook and people are sharing it too. At first I wrote it just for me. I didn’t think this was going to happen,” she said Wednesday.
“I think Governor Christie will wake up the entire country about this and get something done. I have heard that he can be loud,” she said.
Christie spokesman Sean Conner issued a statement Wednesday afternoon about Klinger’s concerns: “Governor Christie is committed helping every New Jerseyan impacted by Superstorm Sandy recover and rebuild. Members of his staff communicated with Ms. Klinger at the town hall on Long Beach Island, and today his staff followed up with her via email to ensure that she had access to the resources in the Governor’s office.”
When Assemblyman Brian Rumpf, R-Ocean, Burlington, Atlantic, learned of Klinger’s difficulties Tuesday, he also contacted her, via email.
“I wish someone would have known that she needed that assistance yesterday so we could have helped her. That’s a shame,” Rumpf said.
The 9th Legislative District representative forwarded to Christie’s office complications that Klinger has as a storm victim as well as her inability to communicate with Christie at Tuesday’s town hall.
Klinger said she wants officials across the country to add caption systems and/or interpreters at public meetings and said all organizations should have the capability to communicate with deaf persons via text message, TTY phone, email or fax.
“I love texting and emailing. My phone doesn’t even get voice calls. This is how I have to communicate,” she said.
As she struggles to prepare her shop to reopen this summer season and deal with catastrophic Hurricane Sandy damage at her home in Beach Haven, communication with the Federal Emergency Management Agency has proved to be difficult, she said.
She learned her home will be demolished, and she was turned down by FEMA and the Small Business Administration for assistance with her business, where she did not have flood insurance.
Her debt before Hurricane Sandy was just more than $200. Now, as she leans on credit cards and deals with post-storm expenses, that has climbed to about $30,000, she said. She received rental assistance for five months and found a temporary home in February.
FEMA did not provide Klinger assistance for the purchase of a deaf alert system, which includes a fire alarm, in her temporary home. She said she paid for the system herself.
After the storm she filed with FEMA, and they came to her home. She gave them permission to speak with her father, which worked for a short period of time and then it stopped, she said.
Unsuccessfully, she requested that FEMA contact her through email because she does not use a TTY phone. She then sent the agency two emails stating that she didn’t feel she was receiving the proper treatment, and her father Joe Klinger also contacted FEMA. That worked.
“Why do we have to yell to get things accomplished? Why don’t we just start listening?” she said.
Klinger sat inside her pottery shop on Long Beach Boulevard and at times was moved to tears when she spoke of having a hearing problem, but not a listening problem.
FEMA spokeswoman Robin E. Smith said that all FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers in New Jersey were equipped with what the agency calls a “functional needs kit.” The kits are set up to assist those who have various needs, among them those who are hearing or sight impaired. The kits are made up of TTY phones, computers and other items.
But the Disaster Recovery Center Klinger visited in Stafford Township was unprepared for assisting a deaf person, because there was no TTY phone at the site, no interpreter and FEMA representatives were resistant to write down what they were saying, she said.
“I have contacted FEMA staff in individual assistance and asked them to look into Amanda Klinger’s situation and have, in fact, spoken with them since. Due to privacy issues I will not be able to discuss details of Amanda’s situation. I can tell you that they’ve spoken to both Amanda and her father many times and will contact her again tomorrow,” Smith said Wednesday.
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