Sam Harris may have made more people aware of American Sign Language than any effort that can possibly be made during Deaf Awareness Week, which just happens to be next week. Harris provided ASL interpretation for Florida Governor Rick Scott during a press conference warning residents to evacuate immediately as Hurricane Irma bore down on the state. His particularly animated interpretation caught the eye of Jimmy Kimmel, who invited Harris on stage the following night to interpret a portion of his monologue

You can't buy publicity like that.

But there is more to the story than a quick laugh on a national stage. Kimmel treated Harris like an entertainer, only briefly noting the importance of his work. American Sign Language interpretation provides equal access to critical information, especially during crises. Access to Emergency alerts and information can mean the difference between life and death during emergencies.

But not in Western New York. Had hurricane Harvey or Irma been threatening our community, closed captioning and a news crawl across the bottom of the screen would have been the extent of access to the news for our deaf community. In Erie County we have captioning but not access to full information. Other communities, like Florida, have interpreters standing by the side of officials signing during crises, but this does not happen here during devastating snow events, for example. Our community needs an emergency plan that includes full access.

To demonstrate this, WKBW-TV Channel 7 has graciously agreed to provide American Sign Language interpretation during its newscasts on Tuesday, September 26 to support Deaf Awareness Week activities in Buffalo and WNY. St. Mary's School for the Deaf and Deaf Access Services are providing the interpreters. Kudos to WKBW for showing our community what full access to news looks like. 

Now take that level of access one step further and imagine ASL interpreters on stage at concerts and at the theater. Just as we now have ramps and elevators to provide access for those with mobility challenges, so too do we need to consider access for those who are deaf or blind. It's all part of the Americans with Disabilities Act, folks.

As I continue to lose my hearing, I have discovered a host of "deaf issues." For example, I have been referring to myself as "hearing impaired," often by way of apology when I'm having trouble hearing someone over the din in a restaurant or at an event, sometimes tugging at my hearing aid to prove it. But that is out-dated terminology, it seems. The deaf community prefers the terms "hard of hearing" or "deaf." Who knew?

And did you know that there are now Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDIs). These are deaf individuals who base their interpretation on a hearing ASL interpreter's rendition of the spoken word, making the meaning available for deaf individuals who do not speak English or who have not mastered American Sign Language. Think of our growing refugee and immigrant community. If you are deaf and you do not yet speak English, it is doubly difficult to get the information you need to survive in a new country. These new CDIs are providing critical access important information.

Deaf Awareness Week will kick off with ASL interpretation of the News on Channel 7 all day next Tuesday, and you are invited to an event at 6:00pm at the Walden Galleria Mall (near the Apple Store) that evening. Enjoy an ASL Performance by Students from St. Mary's School for the Deaf, mini ASL workshops by Deaf Access Services, and a presentation by Calvin Young, a deaf travel blogger from Seek the World.

Join me in supporting equal access to all.

Deaf Awareness Week

Mon Sep 25th - Fri Sep 29th
Various locations throughout Buffalo
Buffalo, NY
A full week of Deaf Awareness activities! Schedule of events: Monday, September 25 9:15 –9:45 am - ASL Storytelling & Change, an ASL music video 10:00am - Students will present officers… details »