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Refunds for deaf attendees at LAWeekly awards?

April 5, 2010

From Bitter Lemons comes this story: Deaf performer and producer Catherine MacKinnon attended the LA Weekly Awards in support of nominees Shoshanna Stern and the Deaf West Theatre, only to discover that the LA Weekly had failed to provide American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters.

Turns out, a couple actors jumped to the rescue and signed for non-hearing attendees. The story claims that MacKinnon, however, wants an apology from LAWeekly (I agree) and a refund (I disagree).

I agree that organizers should apologize for what seems to me a blatant oversight: there was a deaf nominee! You knew there would be deaf audience members! Yet I can’t understand the desire for a refund since sign language interpreters made themselves available from the audience and no significant content was lost.

Someone goofed. This was not an injustice. 

Reached via Facebook, MacKinnon wrote: “At this point, I am not comfortable to comment any further on this. The refund is only $20.00 that’s all there is to it.”

I bring this up, not so much to take sides, but to address my own dilemma. The situation begs answering the questions: Why weren’t ASL interpreters provided when DEAF WEST is a major player in LA theatre and, then, Why weren’t they provided anyway, whether or not DEAF WEST was a nominee? And that led to the question: Do we make everything accessible to hearing-impaired people? Or, perhaps, when do we make everything accessible to them?

The answer is, we don’t. We shouldn’t, unless the specific situation demands it. Federal statistics indicate about 20 people in a thousand are severely hearing impaired in the US. You can throw those stats out the window, however, when you organize an awards program that includes deaf nominees/attendees. This situation demands interpreters. 

Perhaps the most efficient resolution is the organizers offer to pay the actors who stepped in to sign. Those actors ask, instead, that the Weekly makes a comparable contribution to DEAF WEST or GLAD (The Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness) or similar advocacy group.

At $20 per ticket, it’s small potatoes, but a significant acknowledgement.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Havisham Patrizzi permalink
    April 5, 2010 5:17 pm

    This was one of many topics covered two weeks ago at a Screen Actors Guild seminar for casting directors/talent handlers. Like a show, an awards ceremony is a show. You look at the cast, and of course, if a disability is obvious on a visual inspection then, it is quite legal and beneficial to the performer if you ask if they will need any special arrangements. Disabled actors and other minority groups and other under represented people, have a difficult enough time getting cast or considered for work in theatricals, commercials and episodics. That’s a shame. I’d like to see it change.

    That said, I think performers can be pro-active at events where they may be performing without benefit of pre-contractual contact, and I think, especially when an organization is going to honor them. That way, you are saying, Thank you, instead of, Say you’re sorry!

    • Steven Leigh Morris permalink
      April 6, 2010 1:00 pm

      As the producer of the event for the L.A. Weekly, I was approached by Deaf West Theater on the issue of providing an interpreter. I was most interested, and the theater offered to follow up with names of interpreters. This never happened, and nor did I follow up. I think we all regret the dropped ball. Our aim is to make nominees and guests feel welcome.

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