The JJs List Blog

Girl Scouts under fire

Posted by on August 2, 2012 - 26 Comments

girl scouts logoToday, 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 and the Illinois Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission for more information.  Grassroots organizations can plan for an interpreting fund in their fundraising goals—remember not only ASL but Spanish and other non-English translators may be requested of you at some point.

Amber Smock of Access Living

Amber Smock

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.

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Marsha says:
Aug 02, 2012

Amber is so right! A community is not a community if it discriminates by excluding its members.
And shame on the Girl Scouts, who are supposed to be an inclusive group and teach positive values! I can’t help but wonder since the girl in question had been a member of her troop for 7 years, why didn’t the troop as a whole undertake to learn ASL? It would have been a wonderful group project, and it would have created a pebble in the brook effect at the same time it provided communication access.

YO! Disabled & Proud says:
Aug 04, 2012

This story about a Girl Scout Troop discriminating against a girl who is deaf leads me to believe that they are completely unaware that the founder of Girls Scouts of America Juliette Gordon Low was deaf!

I think they need a lesson in Disability History!

Shanna Groves says:
Aug 04, 2012

Thank you for this insightful post. As I wrote about in my story that you referenced, Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low had a significant hearing loss. Her founding of the Girl Scouts of America is nothing short of inspiring. Without the use of sign language interpreters or hearing aid amplication in her day, Daisy did her very best to spread the word about this organization. My hope, as a person with hearing loss and a former Girl Scout, is that all groups become accessible not only to those who are deaf, but those with other unique life challenges. If it were not for the Girl Scouts program, I would not be the person I am today.

Shanna Groves

Shanna Groves says:
Aug 04, 2012

Amber – Here is my follow-up post about the Girl Scouts lawsuit:

Shanna Groves

Ranjit says:
Aug 13, 2012

I’m happy that you brought that up. In case you didn’t know, I grew up as orailst and I have cochlear implant, until I was 16 years old. I learned ASL for first time and fell in love with it as well with deaf culture. Deaf Culture may be outdated to you but it is very unique itself and they can be useful in many ways. Now, you say, you believe it damage deaf children’s ability of learnign good grammar. Not entirely true. First, you need to give your proof of this statements that this is true. I have met a lot of deaf friends at Gallaudet who is strongly fluent in ASL and some of them are very good in grammar and spelling. Of course, there are some who lacked grammar but that doesnt mean ASL can damage ability of learning grammar. I will give you contradiction, supposedly, Spanish language is introduce to USA as second language, will it damage ability of learning English’s grammar? Perhap that is true because both of their language are not the same. ASL has its own structures in language, unlike English. If you think that way, it is your opinion, not fact.Also, chaos about IKJ’s ASL skills? Well, you are right, we do have problem with his signing skills because he can look awkward. Do I say it is ASL that he use? No. It is not completely ASL. But you are right for one thing: but just a good minded president who can raise good funds and knows how to deal with these on the hill But another argument here at Gallaudet, we need a president who truly reflect herself/himself to deaf community. But that’s not real concern.One more thing, you claimed ASL can not bring better employment for the deaf period. You may be wrong because there are a lot of hearing people starting to aware of deaf people and their deaf culture more than before. If you think about it, if you believe that, that is audistic view. Again, I’m sure you’ll contradict that the majority of the world is hearing therefore the majority of language is spoken language (voiced). True, but that doesnt mean ASL can’t bring employment for the deaf.

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