Monday, August 31, 2009

When planning an event, accommodate deaf people

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Community-sponsored events should be made accessible to deaf people who rely on a sign language interpreter to access information on community issues.

Two years ago Woodrow Wilson High School was in the process of being razed and Wilson High Alumni Planning Committee sponsored a walk-in tour of the building and a banquet held on May 25, 2007, for alumni members. Several deaf alumni expressed interest in attending the events as they wished to be part of the celebration and to reconnect with old classmates during their school days. Some deaf requested the services of a sign language interpreter at the banquet because speeches were difficult to lip-read. Hearing students who took American Sign Language (ASL) at Wilson High would have enjoyed putting their basic signing skills into practice if deaf alumni members were in attendance at the 2007 banquet.

An operator-assisted call was made to one of the planning committee members during the second week of May in 2007 to inquire about a sign language interpreter for the banquet. A suggestion was made to have a former ASL student take part in doing the interpreting for free. The call was cut short. I was advised no sign language interpreter would be provided for deaf alumni members and banquet tickets were already “sold out.” However, some former faculty members not involved with the planning committee disagreed and I was advised to try calling again. One call was enough to prevent further problems.

Recently, alumni members of the Wilson High Planning Committee sponsored a scholarship banquet and about 300 attended. Deaf alumni members dropped the idea of attending the second banquet. They knew they would not succeed getting an interpreter this time. They felt the planning committee failed to understand their rights under The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

Wilson High’s Deaf Program survived for 45 years before it phased out in 2000. Its older deaf graduates had the best teachers who trained them well to lead productive lives. They long for a return to Youngstown; however, most deaf alumni living in other states agree that our city is still in the ancient ages when it comes to advanced communication technology and resources made available for our deaf community.