Today, the Chicago Tribune posted a story about a Deaf girl whose family has tried to ensure she has ASL interpreting for her at Girl Scout events. (click here to see story) In response, the Girl Scouts have apparently disbanded the troop rather than pay for an ASL interpreter. The story has provoked a firestorm of commentary from many parents and troop leaders to the effect that a) the Girl Scouts should not have to pay for an interpreter and that the family should pay for it instead, b) that the mother should just interpret for the girl, and that c) the family is just having an “entitlement mentality.” Our colleagues at the National Association of the Deaf and Equip for Equality are handling the case.
This situation highlights a common experience for Deaf people and their families. Because an organization or group doing public events cannot figure out how to have ASL interpretation, the Deaf person is excluded and discriminated against, and the family is ostracized or vilified by fellow parents and the organization as “needy” or “lazy”. This lawsuit should be a call to action for every nonprofit organization to better understand how to ensure communication access at events open to the public, like Girl Scout meetings. It is furthermore illegal in Illinois for anyone other than a licensed ASL interpreter to provide interpreting services, so organizations cannot and should not fall back on “informal” interpreting such as parents or friends or unlicensed students.
For those who know me, this matter hits close to home. ASL interpreting services make my work possible in many public forums. I still have to fight and negotiate quite often for ASL interpreting at venues important for both work and personal matters. This constricts my freedom to engage with society and make an impact as an engaged citizen. My struggle to fight this constriction informs my passion for disability rights.
What you can do: learn how to hire an ASL interpreter, their ethics, rules and rates. Budget for ASL interpreting as requests will come up when you least expect it. You can check out the Chicago Hearing Society www.chicagohearingsociety.org and the Illinois Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission http://www2.illinois.gov/
If you are committed to inclusion and social justice, communication access for all should be part of your practice.
— About The Author —
Amber Smock is the Director of Advocacy at Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago, an advocacy, services and legal organization run by and for people with disabilities. Her team works on disability social change issues ranging from housing and education to health care and employment.
- What I Learned from a (Deaf) Girl Scout (lipreadingmom.com)