A conversation about ASL, interpretation and inclusion.
With Kylie Brooks, Alex Lu, Sage Nobel facilitated by scout
As someone connected to queer/trans communities, social justice communities, disability justice communities, and Deaf/Hard of Hearing communities, I am often in conversations about “the right ways to hire ASL (American Sign Language), interpreters”. Finding interpreters for events can be a tough process, however building connections with Deaf people/communities
scout: my first question was: what does the idea of “accessibility” mean to you both?
Sage: From my own perspective, genuine inclusivity and accessibility
For me – Accessibility means the freedom to navigate the world with minimal barriers
Alex: Well, for myself, the one thing that I’ve been trying to really push back on in my accessibility work is
And it’s the mindset that tends to be a bit toxic. You can go through all of the physical motions of having accessibility, but unless you foster a space where people feel like they’re included, it’s not really accessible. I try to look at it more holistically. For instance, culturally, what do people need? Socially, what do we have to do to make people feel like they’re part of a community? How do people feel like they have a voice and say? Do they feel respected in a space?
These are all as important to accessibility as having an interpreter or a ramp.
I think it sometimes goes against conventional ideas of event planning, which is structured and supposed to be very dogmatic in how you follow out a plan
scout: Sage, would you be into talking a bit about what Deaf Spectrum is and why you started it?
Sage: A little bit about Deaf Spectrum – our goal is to bring greater accessibility for Deaf locals in the Greater Toronto Area who use American Sign Language. Right now, we are producing sign language videos that contain event promotion information and grant information. We are planning on expanding our sign language translation video services. In the future, we are planning to host a series of workshops to provide sign language interpreters training to be competent in their field. There’s more to this but I don’t want to give all my ideas away yet.
We also started up tutoring services – and hopefully, some Deaf interpreting services.
Basically, our goal is to have an all Deaf team and to empower each other. One of our goals is to providing training programs in ASL and teach members of the Deaf community usable skills that can increase employment.
Kylie: I work with them re captioning (on hold for now) and booking stuff.
scout: Awesome! So, is there any advice you would give to someone who is trying to make an event more inclusive to Deaf folks?
Sage: To make an event more inclusive – I would suggest hiring interpreters and Deaf interpreters. Providing captioning whenever possible. Scent free spaces. Wheelchair accessible. Gender Neutral bathrooms. And actually reaching out to the Deaf community – produce vlogs and etc. It’s important to distribute the information as much as you can. Get in touch with Deaf folks who have access to networks/community.
Alex: Personally, speaking from experience – sometimes, even at events that have interpreters, I don’t feel totally engaged. A lot of the time, the reason you’ll go to an event is to feel connected to the community and to involve yourself with other people – but I feel like a lot of hearing people aren’t willing to take the leap to bridge a communication gap. It may be experimental, but one thing I would like to see event organizers do is decenter spoken language as the primary mode of communication. Maybe have notepads around, encourage people to approach Deaf people, etc.
Sage: That’s an amazing idea, Alex.
Also, I find myself more comfortable participating in events where I know there will be signers there. It doesn’t matter if they are not that fluent, but it’s nice to have someone to chat with, rather than just wandering around, looking as if I’m lost.
Alex: Yes! This is also why it’s important to engage at a community level, rather than just at an individual level. If there’s a group going, I’d feel a lot more comfortable. But still, it’s important to address how to break down these communication barriers, so it’s not just the Deaf people sitting in a corner all night and talking between ourselves – as enjoyable as that might be still!
Scout: totally- Kylie, you’ve talked about this before- but there is an idea that once you hire interpreters deaf people will feel totally included and welcome, which isn’t always true.
Sage: And – often, I noticed that sometimes when people try to hire interpreters, they don’t ask you who’s your preferred interpreter is. they just refer to the queer &
Kylie: Yeah, it’s important to match the right kind of terp to
scout: what are some ways that people can navigate finding an interpreter that is a good fit?
Sage: I think the first step is to ask the deaf people interested in the event, ask them who their preferred interpreters are.
Alex: It’s a little tough because I understand sometimes people don’t have the resources and connections just to directly ask Deaf people. I think that’s one issue actually – that the burden always falls upon Deaf people. I don’t know the schedules of interpreters or all their specialities and everything
Sage: Like, there are some events where there are poetry and songs. That is more suitable for a Deaf interpreter, I think. Like, performances, in general.
Alex: Definitely. But there also isn’t
scout: are there some specific questions that you would recommend asking interpreters to see if there are a good fit?
Alex: I’d say ask them about the previous events they’ve done
Kylie: I’d ask specific questions. hmm, “do you know what pronouns are?”
Sage: maybe, if they have taken some kind of anti-oppression training?
Kylie: Also, I think it’s maybe a good idea to ask the interpreters what they know about disability. Not as in, “do you support disabled people?” Specific questions.
Alex: Yeah, that’s important too. I remember once attending a BLM panel, and there were white interpreters. So I was like, “okay
Sage: We need to feel supported as a whole, not just because of our deafness, but as a whole person.
Alex: Sometimes, I feel like people don’t even notice me at an event, lol. Like, I’m in my own bubble with the interpreter, and it’s the hearing people operating in their own world.
Sage: Sometimes, I’m wondering, if they see us chatting with the interpreter, that we’re busy. we’re chatting with the interpreter because we have no one else to talk to!
Alex: Yeah, I feel bad doing that sometimes because I’m like “Oh, do I seem uninviting?” But what am I supposed to do? Stand around and stare at the wall until some hearing person is generous enough to talk to me?
I mean, okay, I would be totally cool with approaching people, but keep in mind I’ve been socialized to literally not know how hearing people start conversations with each other. Like, I don’t have that experience at all. So when I’m in a majority hearing space, I’m suddenly hyperconscious – oh god, what if I violate some kind of hearie norm or something?
Sage: Hearing people have been oppressing us since forever. so we do have some kind of innate fear of dealing with hearing people
Alex: I think it’s less an innate fear for me, as much as it is a bunch of gaps in my knowledge of how hearing society works.
Kylie: Like I’ve had experiences – and others have seen – where I try to ask to clarify but they refuse. Or, people refuse to type on my communication device after being told – for various reasons but still.
Alex: I fake it a lot since I’m oral Deaf, but when it comes down to it, I sometimes have no idea how to behave in a
Kylie: Also, the kind of normative language in the SJ community is my normal way of thinking – my native dialect. So yeah, I think also important to help each other if struggling to explain stuff
Sage: We are
Alex: Yeah, that’s one other thing. One-on-one interactions are so much easier for Deaf people, in my opinion, if it’s a hearing person. I feel like the one big thing I love about Deaf groups is that is someone goes to the washroom or something, someone else will tend to fill them in the conversation. But I’ve rarely ever seen that happen with a hearing group. It’s more like, they expect you to blend in, rather than ensuring everyone’s on the same page before moving on. I think the other thing is that I just feel so tokenized in these spaces, actually. Like, I’m oral, and a lot of places like to invite me because I can give presentations in formats that hearing people like. And then I’ll be the only Deaf person, and I’ll give like, this presentation on accessibility and it’ll be an annual thing, but then I’ll never ever see Deaf people attending other than me. Even though they’re like “oh, we’re learning! We’re improving!” Where’s the improvement? It feels like they’re using me to pay lip service to accessibility because “hey, I’m the lone Deaf person there! It’s accessible!” When really, it’s not.