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The Blue & Gray Press | February 22, 2019

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UMW theatre productions lack ASL interpreters

UMW theatre productions lack ASL interpreters


Staff Writer

In the recent run of the UMW Theatre Department’s play, The Amish Project, no American Sign Language interpreter was present for any of the performances. In the past, ASL interpreters have been available at specific performances of UMW Theatre productions.

“Accommodations in Higher Education are determined by the individual functional impact of a disability, which is determined through the student’s documentation and their own self-report. Providing ASL would not be an appropriate accommodation to the entire hearing-impaired community, especially if the individual does not know the language,” said Assistant Director of Disability Resources, Alison Grimes.

Since there is no “one-size fits all” when it comes to a person’s accessibility in their environment, not every student who is hearing impaired may want to have an interpreter present at events but instead prefer alternative forms of translation, such as closed-captioning, Grimes said.

While the Office of Disabilities is doing their part in offering accommodations to the hearing-impaired,  Grimes said that students also need to be a part of this. “Providing an accessible, inclusive environment is everyone’s responsibility,” said Grimes.

The demand for ASL interpreters on a wide spread level has been on the rise in recent years, not just in college communities, but around the globe. According to an article from The New York Times titled “Interpreting the Theater Without Speaking a Word,” the standard for having sign language interpreters present for performances is growing across the nation. Theater Development Fund courses have been put in place for interpreters to learn more about not only how to become experts in using sign language in the theater, but also of its importance.

In the article, Frank L. Dattolo, a deaf actor, spoke of how interpretations opened up the world of music and acting to him.

“I was able to identify with hearing people and to understand why people in general love musical plays,” Dattolo said.

Financial limits may cause this to not be as feasible at the college level.

UMW began offering sign-interpreted performances in the fall of 2014 due to the parents of one of the cast members being deaf.

“We offered the interpreted performance so his parents could be a part of our audience,” said Gregg Stull, chair of the UMW Theatre Department.

This practice would continue for three years, but financial constraints resulted in the inability to continue it.

“Despite an aggressive audience development effort, we were not able to attract an audience of people who needed interpretation to justify the cost of this service,” said Stull. He went on to state that no one has ever complained about there not being a sign language interpreter present.

The College Guide for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students states that, “9 million people in the U.S. are either functionally deaf or hard of hearing. Of these, about 100,000 are aged 18-44, but how many attend college? The National Center for Educational Statistics reports somewhere around 20,000 deaf and hard of hearing students attend post-secondary educational institutions each year.”
Stull said that if a student does rely on ASL, “we will work with Disability Resources to provide a sign-interpreted performance of that production.”

According to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services at UMW, the theatre department may be required to have more ASL interpreters at plays in the future. On their website it states that services include ASL interpreters, as well as real-time speech-to-text transcription and closed-captioning services.

Despite these services being in place, some students feel that they are rarely used.

“I have personally never attended any event that had any ASL interpretation, including graduation, which surprised my friends and I [sic],” said senior psychology major Hayley Tuck. “I would like to see more of this on campus.”

Those hoping to learn more about the University’s efforts can also attend a class offered by the Office of Disability resources called Accessibility 101, which is available to faculty, staff, and students.

“We want to engage everyone in the discussion around accessibility and what this actually means,” said Grimes.

The next Accessibility 101 class will be held on Friday, Nov. 16 at 9 a.m. in the UC Capital Room in 314.