The disability community was initially pleased to see Mayor Bloomberg accompanied by Sign Language Interpreter Lydia Callas & Pamela Mitchell. Of course, what the public didn’t know is that it took a lawsuit to achieve compliance with a federal law; the Americans with Disabilities Act. This accommodation was needed for the sake of public safety and to ensure that the City’s residents who were Deaf and hard of hearing would have immediate access to vital emergency evacuation information. In an emergency situation, most networks do not provide what is called open or live captioning and it is commonly believed the individual person has control over their television sets and the captioning as well. American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters provide immediate communication for those who most need it. Mayors and governors in other States have accepted this practice, which has been elusive in New York. At the same time the disability community noticed Ms. Callas and/or Ms. Mitchell, apparently many others did as well.
Aside from the numerous individuals who relied on their sign language skills, many in the general public took to making fun of the facial expressions/body movements which conveyed the Mayor’s message to the audience.
Accepted mockery of one’s culture gives approval to discrimination and tells the youth and less educated this behavior is fine. ASL is a visual-spatial language that is more than just the hands signing. It calls for facial expressions and body movements that emphasize words and points within the context of the discussion, comparable to fluctuations in tone of voice or the use of exclamation points in sentences. Mocking the sign language interpreters simply indicates ignorance and immaturity.
So Saturday Night Live, are you going to do a racist joke next? Perhaps something that speaks poorly of women? No, you’d rather make fun of an interpreter and insult Deaf culture. It takes a very small mind to limit options and communication during an emergency.
The Deaf Dream website’s rebuttal was simple, yet elegant: “we believe that our culture, history, community and language should be treated with respect…we stand by Lydia Callas and Ms. Mitchell and tell them both a job well done.”