“No ASL Interpreters” at Inauguration 2017

by: Alyssa Ruffolo

Early last week, a Deaf man by the name of Mike Keathley posted a video on Facebook that soon went viral. Keathley, being a member of the Deaf community himself, was upset that (according to him) there were no sign language interpreters at the inauguration of president Trump. Upon further research, I have come to understand that there were sign language interpreters provided at the event, but none were on stage, easily visible, or televised for the many Deaf citizens watching the inauguration live or from home. In addition, tickets were provided for students from Gallaudet University, a predominantly Deaf university located in Washington D.C, for the red zone at the event, while the interpreters were located in the blue zone.

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This mistake has nothing to do with politics; the Trump administration had no involvement in this mishap. However, Keathley’s post has gone viral most likely due to heightened interests in politics and the big event. It seems that as a result of this mistake, some of Keathley’s and others’ frustrations about this issue may have increased their resentment toward the Trump administration as a whole. This increasing anger/blame may also be partly fueled by Trump’s blatant disrespect for the disabled community earlier in 2016.

Nonetheless, this is an important reminder of the constant injustices that people of the disabled community face each and every day. Many hearing people would claim that there was closed captioning provided at the event and on television, so the Deaf community still had access to the information. Unfortunately, closed captioning is not equivalent to an interpreter. Closed captioning has many flaws, and while slightly helpful in getting the main message across, it is many times inaccurate and unhelpful to the Deaf community. Most, if not all Deaf people consider themselves to be ESL readers. Sign language is greatly different from English grammatically, something many English-speaking hearing people are unaware of. Also, Gallaudet is an international university. Every year, Deaf students from other countries around the world come to the United States to study at this prestigious university. English may even be some students’ third or fourth language. As previously mentioned, Gallaudet is located in Washington D.C., so many students came from the university to watch the inauguration and most likely did not benefit from the closed captioning provided.

During the campaign season, when debates were being broadcasted live on television, there is a website called dpan.tv which included live interpreters representing both candidates, as well as the mediator. This website was favored among many Deaf people over the closed captioning provided on television, because the live interpreters were able to make the message clearer while also eliminating the sometimes excessive lag that comes with closed captioning.

With the improvement of technology, the Deaf community has become more aware and connected with society. However, the quality of closed captioning is still a huge issue. An interpreter is able to visually show the message through facial expressions, pauses, and explanations of words that may not be familiar to an ESL individual. In contrast, closed captioning merely broadcasts a series of words which may/may not be correct, usually at a rate that is much faster than the average ESL reader can keep up with, and also typically with a time lag that may make the reader feel disconnected with the rest of the viewers/audience. Why should you care? Because with the help of people like Mike Keathley and others who support the disabled community, we can stand up for the improvement of their “equal” access and help fight the ignorance and disrespect that they face every single day of their lives.

originally posted: 1/30

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