As an independent consultant and speaker, I am not able to attend events and to give presentations there as often as I would like to. It’s an important way for me to be able to learn from other speakers, to network with other professionals, and to meet potential clients. It is hard enough to be an independent consultant, it is much harder for me to be an attendee with hearing loss. I’m often being excluded and feeling frustrated due to communication access barriers that event organizers could easily remove by providing quality communication access services such as live captioning or sign language interpreters or both. Some event organizers are more than happy enough to provide those services but most do not.
There are around 50 million deaf and hard-of-hearing people in USA which is 20% of total population. Many of them are frustrated with social stigma and lack of accessibility in education, employment, entertainment, and live events. They often face resistance barriers that society could easily remove by providing full and equal access to aural information via quality captioning, sign language, and other alternative types of communication. Not all people are same in terms of hearing and communication abilities, so there’s no one size fit all for everyone or for all situations. There are different solutions depending not only on types of people attending them, but also on types of events.
The major frustration I’m having every time with new event organizers is that they try to make an excuse not to have a budget for communication access services at events, even if events are free. I’ve attended numerous events (both free and paid) hosted by volunteers who can make them accessible with help of sponsors. Many events usually have sponsors to cover the cost for food, drinks, rental area, and so on. So why not sponsor accessibility? Event organizers can easily ask any company for sponsorship to cover communication access services expenses. It not only makes attendees with hearing loss happy, but also makes both event organizers and sponsors look good. Organizers are also responsible to make their events accessible according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Another issue is quality of communication access services. You cannot just pick an unqualified person to interpret/caption in order to save money. High-quality services are not cheap. Some of you may have heard about the fake interpreter in South Africa at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Sadly, it’s not the first or only incident. There are many bad interpreters/captioners who are not qualified. It is shameful when some event organizers try to cut corners by looking for cheap interpreters/captioners. It would only cause more communication breakdown and more embarrassing frustration for deaf and hard-of-hearing attendees.
Some good-hearted organizers can get overwhelmed with not knowing which captioning or interpreting service providers to choose, so it would be best to follow recommendations of deaf people who know which ones they prefer. I have worked with various communication access providers around the country for 20+ years and have had enough share of bad captioners and interpreters to be able to tell them apart from good quality providers. That’s why I provide detailed consulting and training to event organizers to ensure good quality communication access at their events.