Photo credit: Melissa “echo” Greenlee
Pictured: Jeff Wildenstein
Channeling Macklemore by Jen L. P.
As I was reading up on an issue, I stumbled upon this photo (above) on Facebook, taken by Melissa “echo” Greenlee. It is EXACTLY what I was hoping to find and here it was. An image (taken with a mobile device, of course!) that makes me feel like I am there. I can feel the people next to me, damp with sweat, and I need to squint from the bright lights as they filter through Macklemore’s movements. And I swear I can even hear it. It’s deafening, isn’t it!? It’s glorious!
Of course, if I had been there, I’d have actually been able to hear it. But there are 38 million Deaf and Hard of Hearing in the United States, many of whom, thanks to qualified interpreters (like Jeff Wildenstein, shown in Echo’s photo) get to enjoy Macklemore concerts—and performances at the Seattle Theater Group (STG), the 5th Avenue Theatre, Seattle Repertory Theatre, and more. Many in the local Deaf community use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate, and these venues provide ASL interpreters so that the Deaf and Hard of Hearing have the opportunity to enjoy these performances as much as those in the hearing community.
When I contacted Echo about her photo she said,
I personally love this photo because it shows Macklemore being channeled through Jeff which is exactly how it felt at that moment. It’s not always that I, as a late deafened individual, can feel so immensely connected through ASL… But with proper interpretation, I received 100% access and the result was so immensely chilling… My hairs stood up in thrill. Jeff and Pam [Parham] did Macklemore justice! #realgoodinterpreter
You might not have thought much about ASL. It’s a real language, as valid as all the spoken languages. There is also, Italian Sign language, Czech Sign Language, and Sierra Leone Sign Language, to name just a few. These languages are all different, just like spoken languages.
“Even deaf/hh people need access to Chippendales Tulalip Resort Casino, Seattle. #deaffriendly #realgoodinterpreter “
Photo credit: Melissa “echo” Greenlee
Pictured: Alyson Boote
People who use sign languages live in a broader culture with many, many people who do not speak their language. It becomes very important, therefore, for qualified interpreters to be available to assist not only in times of crisis (imagine the complexity of an abused Deaf woman trying to escape from his/her abusive partner, or any 911 call), but also to provide equal accessibility to art and culture. There is no reason for deafness to lessen a person’s life experiences, but without awareness, the hearing frequently unwittingly restrict opportunities for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
Did you hear about the “interpreter” who was hired for Nelson Mandela’s memorial? Word is that this is not the first time there had been complaints about this man’s ineffective interpreting, and yet he was hired repeatedly. No one listened to the Deaf community when they complained that his signs were unintelligible.
Pictured left to right: Ellie Savidge, Nat Wilson, Mark Hoshi, Suz Ledet
There is a wonderful performance group in Seattle, and as a hearing person, I have enjoyed them immensely. When my family learned that the ASL interpreter was not signing clearly — and that leaders in the Deaf community had written a letter requesting a qualified interpreter, but that nothing had been done — my family and I stopped going to the shows and told the company why we were no longer going to go. This happened in the early 1990’s. It is now roughly 10 years later and although additional formal complaints had been made, they continue to use the same interpreter.
Pictured: Lance Forshay
An excerpt from an Open Letter to Seattle Men’s Chorus:
Imagine that you are a French-speaking citizen. You discover that there will be a French interpreter at a meeting. You attend the meeting, only to discover that the interpreter speaks in broken French, and that at times, he is not decipherable. After the meeting, you approach the organizer and explain. They dismiss you – the interpreter is just a nice guy! He sounds so pretty! …You are unable to follow the proceedings of the meeting, and you cringe in shame every time he mispronounces a word or stumbles over a sentence. Yet, he stands around after every meeting and people come up to him and praise him for his work. You scream and shout, and nobody believes you. …For years, there are rumblings underground [in the French-speaking community] about “that French interpreter”, and people are warned to stay away from meetings that he interprets.
Pictured: Shawn Broderick
I took part in a protest recently in Seattle along-side people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, and their Allies, in an attempt to be heard. The request is simple: that for performances and other events that are advertised as sign-language interpreted, that they indeed be interpreted accurately so that Deaf audience members can enjoy all the intricate humor, detailed stories, and joy and tragedy in performances that were developed so thoughtfully by the production company and performers. But this is a broader issue, of course: qualified interpreters should be utilized at all types of events and situations.
Pictured: Crystal Plum Green speaking to the media
Accessibility for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is not for the hearing community to measure in isolation. It is up to the hearing to listen and collaborate with the Deaf community to ensure that all the effort and skill that goes into productions is fully represented by the interpreter. I, for one, will be listening more carefully.
Thanks for sharing my journey!
More about the protest regarding the interpreter used by the Seattle Men’s Chorus: