Campus CultureCulture

“Hamilton” ASL interpretation sparks conversation about Deaf culture and accessibility

Photo courtesy of Joe Burbank, Orlando Sentinel

American Sign Language (ASL) recently garnered some attention from community members and students alike with Hamilton’s run at the Morrison Center. Many students enjoyed watching the ASL interpreters just as much as the performance itself.

These interpreters created a road for members of the Deaf community to voice the overlying issues as well as benefits of Deaf culture and accessibility. 

“I have a B.A. degree in theater, so I love anything related to theater,” said Davina Snow, ASL coordinator and professor at Boise State. “If there is no interpreter provided, I miss out on the equivalent theatrical experience enjoyed by the other patrons. Without such accessibility, a Deaf patron will become lost.”

Snow mentioned the Morrison Center is generally very good at providing access, but it can be difficult elsewhere. Snow said many places will ask for her to provide an interpreter, rather than providing their own. 

“We don’t have a personal interpreter. That’s not the reality. They bring the production to the stage, and they are committed to ensure a top experience for their patrons and by providing interpretation access they portray the same level of commitment for all,” Snow said.

According to Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, businesses and nonprofits must provide equal access to people with disabilities, including those who are deaf or hard of hearing. 

Snow expressed how on some occasions she was required to remind facilities about the law. She was even required to call the Idaho State Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in order to have someone advocate for her.

Jahaira Faber, ASL Club president and Deaf student, brought a different form of entertainment to the table: movies. 

“I am a big movie person. Captions are a must when it comes to movies, but … a lot of the time [movie theaters] don’t have full access,” Faber said.

Faber described that there are glasses or cupholder devices that show captions, but many times the glasses haven’t been charged, and the devices are incredibly inconvenient. 

Captiview Device
[Photo of a Captiview device that provides captioning to Deaf and Hard of Hearing patrons at select movie theaters.]
Screenshot from Cameron Andrews via YouTube

“Honestly, the technology sucks,” Faber said. “I don’t want to complain too much because it is improving. It just has a long way to go.” 

This access isn’t restricted to only entertainment, but also to daily life. In doctor’s appointments, restaurants and classrooms, not having an interpreter or some kind of accessible option is a hindrance.

“There are many small things that hearing people don’t realize create huge barriers. We don’t get to experience things the same way hearing people do, and that’s not [always] fair,” Faber said. 

Although there is difficulty with accessibility, those moments when it is provided and unobstructed can be wonderful.

“I remember the first ASL-only event that I went to. It was a Shakespeare retelling where the entire show [consisted] of only Deaf actors or signers … It was incredible,” Faber said.

“It’s ‘music to our eyes.’ It’s just beautiful. It touches your soul. It moves you and inspires you,” Snow said when describing a fully signed performance. 

Deaf people are unique from others with disabilities because they have their own language which is distinct from English. This creates a culture that is very unique.

Faber talked about the connectedness of the Deaf community, and also what is described as the “deaf gain.” Deaf people are great drivers because they are not as easily distracted by noises and music. It is also possible to carry conversations through windows or across large distances with ease. 

“If we don’t want to listen to something, we can take our devices off. We can take a sigh of relief knowing we don’t have to listen to everything. Hearing people don’t have that luxury,” Faber said.

The Deaf community not only has these “gains,” but they bring a unique perspective to the world as hearing people know it.

“Deaf people are really well connected,” Faber said, “That’s the thing I love the most about the Deaf community is that interconnectedness. If I can bring that part of Deaf culture and apply it to the hearing world, I feel like it would be such a better place.”

Sign-language interpreters Ty Blake-Holden and Jill Kalish rehearse with the cast of 'Legally Blonde,' in production at the Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center in Sanford, Fla., Sept. 19, 2018.
[Sign-language interpreters Ty Blake-Holden and Jill Kalish rehearse with the cast of ‘Legally Blonde,’ in production at the Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center in Sanford, Fla., Sept. 19, 2018.]
Photo courtesy of Joe Burbank, Orlando Sentinel
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