Last week, Jimmy Kimmel hosted a "sign language rap battle" where two interpreters and deaf entertainer named Jo Rose Benfield each delivered their live interpretation of a Wiz Khalifa song. The video has nearly a million views on YouTube and was featured on many prominent sites across the web-- further proving that pop culture is ready to embrace deaf performers.
How do deaf people enjoy music? Vibrations, beats, lights, interpreted lyrics and awesome dance moves. It is inspiring to see mainstream media outlets exploring all-access entertainment, even if it's happening slowly. I was thrilled to see a deaf musical interpreter share her talents with a wider audience, and the "battle" format allowed people to see a diversity in signing style.
Although Jimmy Kimmel did not inform audiences that one of the performers was deaf (he referred to her as a certified interpreter), I think it is still important to view this experience in a positive light. Everyone in the video was energetic and having fun. The interpreters were completely professional and Jo Rose is an instant superstar. Both deaf and hearing audiences were captivated by the beautiful, rhythmic ASL interpretations and the popularity of the clip has fueled the ongoing national conversation about deaf issues.
In similar music news, artist Jamie xx just released a video for the song "Sleep Sound" that stars all deaf dancers. Although it did not feature any sign language, the video beautifully captures the appreciation deaf people can have for music. The diverse cast of dancers are smiling, twirling and moving their bodies to the vibrations of the song, which has no lyrics.
One thing I hope artists take away from this is that they have deaf fans. If more musicians made their performances fully accessible, I believe they'd be surprised how many deaf and hard of hearing individuals relate to their music, come out to shows and purchase band merchandise.
Yes, venues are responsible for providing event interpreters upon request, but imagine how many deaf fans consider this a barrier. There is no deciding to see a concert last minute, interpreters need to be booked in advance. Additionally, not all interpreters are of the same caliber as those shown on Jimmy Kimmel Live; so there's no promise that the deaf audience will receive a high quality performance. If musicians specifically incorporated interpreters into their act they would demonstrate a true appreciation for deaf fans by guaranteeing a performance up to the artists' standard. This is what equality looks like.
Media exposure can be a powerful catalyst for change. As pop culture explores the deaf experience, I hope to see deaf fans welcomed into the musical space. It breaks my heart when I think about deaf children being sent the message that music and dancing are not for them. Nobody should feel excluded. Music is for everyone.
An earlier version of this article contained the name of a sign language interpreter who participated in the rap battle. That person's name was removed from the article upon request.
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