Evan Arnold, Youth Voices Contributor
Editor’s note: This post by Northview High Senior Evan Arnold first appeared on fast growing media as part of voice of youth series. Youth Voices is a paid journalism opportunity that raises youth awareness of community issues and solutions. Kent ISD is a sponsor of Youth Voices. The School News Network accepts student contributions from a variety of sources.
This year’s Super Bowl XVII halftime show put famed singer Rihanna and deaf American Sign Language interpreter Justina Miles in the spotlight.However, during the 13-minute show, viewers had to access other sources to watch Interpreted by Justina MilesMiles still captivates audiences as clips and videos of her expressive signature explode on platforms like TikTok and Instagram, quickly becoming popular across the country. In addition to Miles’ performance, this year’s Super Bowl XVII also featured revered deaf actor and Academy Award winner Troy Kutsor, who interpreted the national anthem.
These performances quickly generated mutual interest among the deaf and hearing communities.
Why is it necessary to find alternative sources to provide equal access during performances for all? Also, how can our Grand Rapids community continue to bridge communication gaps during performances?
according to detroit news, Michigan has approximately 633,000 residents who are hard of hearing, of whom approximately 46,000 are identified as deaf. These numbers not only simply illustrate the size of the community, but reiterate the large population within our community who may need access to interpreters.
Gisel Gallarzo, a sophomore at Northview High School who is part of the deaf community, said that for those who need an interpreter at an event, it is their personal responsibility to find one through an outside organization. Once they request a translation and it is approved, the organization arranges for the translation to appear. Finally, after completing the process of setting up an interpreter, those requesting accessibility must rely on the interpreter’s responsibility to arrive on time.
In all cases, the process of gaining access to an interpreter can be laborious, but luckily, organizations such as Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services (DHHS) Help this process within our community. Even with the organization’s assistance, Grand Rapids’ performing arts scene still lacks interpretation services.
In discussing the coverage of translations during these performances, Gallarzo described how “it just couldn’t provide the same communication and experience without the presence of a translator.”
Overall, she emphasized the importance of interpreters in the performing arts because ultimately, “I don’t want us to be alone, I want us to work together.”
Marie DeRegnaucourt, an American Sign Language teacher at Northview High School, said that while she has seen interpreters at concerts and sporting events, coverage of interpreters at other performance events can be somewhat limited.
“Flashback to Super Bowl XXVII,” DeRegaucourt said. “Actress Marlee Matlin sang the national anthem with singer Garth Brooks. Matlin shared the stage with Brooks during the performance; it hasn’t been copied since – why? ”
To address this issue himself, DeRegnaucourt partnered with Northview High School’s drama department to create an immersive experience for those who are deaf or hard of hearing during the final rehearsal of the musical Matilda this past March.
“It’s definitely an experience I’ll do again because everyone got so much out of it,” she said.
Unfortunately, a nationwide shortage of interpreters adds to the challenge of improving access. In 2021, there are 69,400 interpreter jobs – Reflects the number of filled and vacant positions. However, to have some perspective on the shortage, Deaf Interpreters Registry Only about 10,000 ASL interpreters in the United States are listed.
DeRegnaucourt said she “would like to have more interpreters at these events, but it’s always been hard to find coverage, so the available interpreters work double.”
A Grand Rapids organization is improving accessibility
No matter what challenges our communities face, there are a number of organizations dedicated to providing equal opportunity – one of which is Grand Rapids Civic Theater.
In its 97th season, the Grand Rapids Civic Theater offers interpreted screenings on the second Saturday of each show. The goal is to make theater more accessible to everyone.
Jessica Burke, Director of Audience Experience at the Grand Rapids Civic Theater, explained that the biggest way to achieve accessibility is to analyze the theater’s current programming in terms of how it serves the community.
“[We then] Finding out how we can better serve them,” Burke said.
A large part of Grand Rapids Civic’s accessibility efforts focuses on providing solutions before people need to ask, and providing an engaging and inclusive experience for everyone.
For the next step, Burke would like to see “more volunteers who can sign up… so we can provide a more cohesive experience.”
Overall, the Civic Theater of Grand Rapids is primarily focused on providing the most enjoyable experience possible for everyone; there has been a lot of support for these performances since their inception.
However, their work on accessibility is far from over, with Burke expressing a desire to “continue to create a welcoming environment for everyone.”
learn more about Voice of Rapidly Growing Youth project and read other articles in this series.This series was made possible through underwriting sponsorship Steelcase Foundation, Frey Foundationand kent press office.
Northview High School senior Evan Arnold is currently studying American Sign Language and plans to study as an ASL interpreter at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in upstate New York after graduating this May.
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