Arts organizations need to provide effective communication for patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing – an estimated 28 million Americans.
Hard of hearing, deaf, or Deaf (and why it matters in providing access)
“Hard of hearing” is defined variously as “people who have a hearing loss and whose usual means of communication is by speech” (The International Federation of Hard of Hearing People), and “those who have some hearing, are able to use it for communication purposes, and who feel reasonably comfortable doing so” (the National Association of the Deaf (NAD)). Regardless of the definition used, people who are hard of hearing typically do not use sign language. Instead, assistive listening systems, captioning, and scripts (for narrated tours, etc.) provide the best communication access.
Though some people who are deaf may also benefit from some of the above services, many may need sign language interpretation instead. And for people who consider themselves “Deaf” (with a capital ‘D’) American Sign Language (ASL) is not just a form of communication, but an integral part of Deaf culture. According to the author of Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture, “The members of this group have inherited their sign language, use it as a primary means of communication among themselves, and hold a set of beliefs about themselves and their connection to the larger society.”
The following accommodations can help to provide access for arts patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing. Lists of local/Oregon resources follow this informational section.
Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs)/Assistive Listening Systems (ALS)
This technology improves audibility in specific listening situations. There are three basic types of systems: FM, loop, and infrared. All of them use a single or multiple microphones that connect to a central unit. The central unit controls the system and transmits the sound signal much like a radio station. Each patron uses a receiver that picks up the signal and sends it either to a pair of headphones, or to a hearing aid or cochlear implant.
Wondering which system will work best for your space and your audience? Check out Infrared vs. FM Assistive Listening Devices (add link), an Accessibility TipSheet from The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (produced collaboratively with members of the Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD) network).
Sign Language Interpretation
- American Sign Language (ASL) is the most well-known form of sign language in the U.S. (and the type used by the U.S. Deaf community), but some patrons may use Signed English, and patrons who are deaf-blind use yet another form. When honoring a request, make sure to ask what type of interpretation is needed. Also consider the nature of the event. Interpreters have different specialties: a theatrical interpreter, for example, has been trained to relate the nuances of theatre. Be sure to use certified interpreters, and book them well in advance. Sign language interpreters need to take breaks, so you should book at least two interpreters for events such as theatre performances, conferences, and meetings. One interpreter may suffice for events such as exhibition openings that involve only short verbal inputs.
Captioning provides access to the auditory components of live events, film/video/TV, multimedia, and websites. Live EventCaptioning, also called Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART), instantly translates spoken word into text via live captioning. Captioning that is not presented live (i.e., is onscreen) is presented in one of two formats. In closed captioning, the captioned text is displayed only when it is desired (and activated).Open captions are a permanent part of the video/film/etc., and cannot be turned off.
Check out the following Accessibility TipSheet from The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (produced collaboratively with members of the Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD) network):
Tours that are typically presented verbally (either live or recorded) can be made more accessible by distributing scripts of the narration to tour attendees who cannot hear the tour guide or recording. Please note that scripts may not provide access for people who use sign language.
Access to Communication by Phone (and more)
Many people who are deaf or hard of hearing communicate via relay services that employ telephone, video, Internet, or instant messaging technology. Staff should be trained to recognize relay calls, which are operator-assisted, but are not collect or for-fee calls. A good explanation of the different types of relay services is available at http://www.sprintrelay.com/. Other local providers include Hand On Video Relay Service http://www.hovrs.com/VRS_SSL/hovrs.aspx and Sorenson Video Relay Service http://www.sorensonvrs.com/. The traditional (phone to phone) relay service can be reached by dialing 711.
In addition, there are resources that may help to provide better access to:
Museums and galleries
UK-based Deafworks has a checklist at http://www.deafworks.co.uk/who-are-you/arts-heritage/access-for-venues-a-checklist/#.UPWxqm-7OAg
Information about providing access to and teaching music can be found at http://deafness.about.com/cs/educationgeneral/a/deafmusic.htm
Assistive Listening Devices
- Access Technologies, Inc., Oregon’s Statewide Assistive Technology Program, is a nonprofit organization that works with government, business, education, health service organizations, and individuals to provide accessible and cost-effective ergonomic and technology solutions. Some equipment, including assistive listening devices, is available for rent. www.accesstechnologiesinc.org
- Harris Communications, a national mail order and web catalogue offers products for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, including assistive listening devices, telephone equipment, and visual devices www.harriscomm.com
- Portland-based Earlink offers much of the same equipment as Harris Communications. Owner Jay Thurman is happy to consult onsite with organizations to ensure that they receive the best equipment for their space and their needs. http://earlink.com/
- LNS Captioning, another Portland-based company, provides Live EventCaptioning, also calledCommunication Access Realtime Translation (CART), which is the instant translation of the spoken word into text via live captioning. They also provide captioning for videos as well as audio description for video and multimedia. http://www.lnscaptioning.com/
- Strada Communication, Inc. is a communication access agency located in Vancouver, Washington, which serves clients in the U.S and Canada. Services include: TypeWell Transcription, CART/Real-Time Captioning, Sign Language Interpreting, and more. There’s also a good description of TypeWell, a new speech–to–text service, on their site. http://stradagize.com/
- c2 (caption coalition) inc, is the pioneer of Live Performance Captioning at live theatrical and cultural events, and is nationally recognized as the leading authority in the field. Though not a local company, c2 personnel and equipment travel nationwide. In addition, they have partnered with TDF (Theatre Development Fund) to offer a limited number of two-year regional theatre partnerships to sponsor open captioned performances and help increase attendance by people who are deaf or hard of hearing. http://www.c2net.org/
- Access Services Northwest provides sign language, oral and tactile interpreters for individuals who are deaf, hard-of-hearing and deaf-blind in the State of Oregon, and in Southwest Washington. http://www.asnwonline.com/
- Signing Resources & Interpreters, LLC specializes in the provision of highly-qualified sign language interpreters in the Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA area. http://www.signingresources.com/
- A list of interpreters (and coordinators for those interpreters) who are experienced and/or trained in performing arts techniques is available at (add link).The list also includes a Deaf Interpreting Coach.
- http://www.signplay.com lists upcoming interpreted performances and events.