America is in a constant battle to advocate for diversity, but too often we believe that culture is synonymous with race or ethnicity.
Webster defines culture as “the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place or time.”
According to the World Federation of the Deaf, there are approximately 70 million Deaf individuals in the world. These 70 million people have their own language, traditions and values.
However, as America continues to fight for equality among all peoples, the Deaf community is often forgotten.
American Sign Language (ASL) was not recognized as a language in the United States until 1960. Even today, there are still three states that do not view ASL as a foreign language.
Freshman Rebekah Best learned how to sign when she was very young. Her ability to break language barriers allows her to communicate with her best friend.
Best met her best friend in the sixth grade and because of her knowledge of sign, Best was able to introduce herself and start building a relationship.
“From that point on, I became a lot more involved in the Deaf community,” Best said.
Best attended an open captioned showing of “The Revenant” Jan. 31 with sign language professor Marcy Roush and several other students studying sign.
“This film was supposed to be open captioned,” Best said. “However, it was merely subtitled, meaning that only the parts in a foreign language were displayed on the screen. This meant the movie could not be understood by the Deaf people.”
A common misconception about Deaf culture is that subtitles and closed/open captioning are the same. Subtitles are the translations of a foreign language and merely relay the dialogue.
Closed or open captioning means that the dialogue and the sounds are relayed. Open captioning is only used at movie theatres. By adding the sounds in the translation, people of Deaf people are better able to understand what is happening in the movie and feel the intensity. Closed captioning is used on any other video medium.
Scary movies, for example, are infinitely less scary without the music to intensify the scene. By putting captioning in the movie, Deaf individuals are still able to experience the intensity.
“The Revenant” had 25 Deaf individuals in attendance and because there was a mix up with the captioning, 25 people did not understand the movie.
When Roush realized the problem, she had a student shine a light on her hands and she began signing the dialogue while trying to add the sound effects.
The hearing community around Roush did not understand the situation and was irritated by the light.
Because of the lack of captioning, the Deaf community left the movie theatre and was given a refund.
“This experience showed me that those who are inconvenienced once by another culture are much less accepting,” Best said. “While the other that is denied often is accepting as it is just a normal part of life.”
This calls into question equal access and equal opportunity. The Deaf community should be able to have access to the same information and entertainment that is available to the hearing community.
Junior Allison Parks has made this a personal mission.
“As you work with Marcy she starts to try and incorporate your major into sign language,” Parks said. “As I studied, I found this love for interpreting. I really wanted to incorporate interpreting and theatre.”
Parks decided that she either wanted to interpret theatre or travel with a group that puts on Deaf versions of plays.
Parks directed a one act play that showed at the PAC Feb. 6 entitled “Break Fast.” Along with the three hearing actors that portrayed the main characters, there were also three sign students who followed each actor and interpreted their lines.
“I was going to hire an interpreter, but Marcy got this idea in my head to do a project,” Parks said.
Legally, the University would have to hire an interpreter for Parks’ show if there was even one Deaf individual in the audience. However, Parks found sign students interested in the project.
“My signers were able to break down that cultural barrier between hearing and Deaf culture. I wanted it to represent that whatever happens in a hearing family could happen in a deaf family as well,” Parks said. “Deaf people love and appreciate theatre just as much as we do. When an interpreter is present, they can still get the story, they still see the emotion on faces, they can still see the costumes and the lighting. If the actors are doing their jobs and the interpreters are doing theirs, then you shouldn’t need to hear to feel the emotion of the show.”
There are several other jobs in the Deaf culture besides interpreting. JJ Jones was born Deaf in Kansas City, Missouri. As a child, he watched “The Red Skelton Show” and began mimicking his miming routines. He is now one of the most famous Deaf performers in the United States.
“For the past 20 years, I have been involved as an advocate for open captioned movies and also used to work for an independent living center as a Deaf program manager and mentor to young adults and youth,” Jones said.
Jones has been working for years to advocate for equal access and equal opportunity. He continues his work because he is passionate about making a difference in people’s lives. He also has some advice for people who want to get more involved in the Deaf community.
“I would go to an independent living center like MERIL in St. Joe and Maryville… where you can help. Seek Deaf clubs for networking advice. Maybe at schools where they have Deaf students,” Jones said.
The Deaf community is ever growing and has to fight for equality just like every other minority. Deafness should not be viewed as a disability, it is merely like the color of skin; something people cannot control.
“Deaf can do anything except hear. Treat Deaf and HH (hard of hearing) first class, not second,” Jones said.