THE BLOG

Inclusion for All

06/11/2014 02:44 pm ET | Updated Aug 11, 2014

New York City has so many incredible Summer street festivals, art exhibits and cultural events to enjoy. Now, imagine how many shows you would go to if you had to contact the event organizers weeks in advance, explain that you need special accommodations and possibly even explain how to secure those resources. This is the burden placed on deaf people every time they want to attend and event, and it is a far cry from equal access.

Organizers work long and hard to ensure their events are successful, but somewhere along the way they come to the conclusion that providing deaf access is a choice. We live in one of the most diverse countries on the planet, with laws that specifically protect the deaf and hard of hearing, but still excuses are made to exclude interpreters from event budgets. Without considering how challenging this makes it for deaf people to ever show up on a whim, event planners make the assumption that deaf attendees will always go through the steps to identify themselves and their needs.

The message being sent to deaf people is that they are not really invited. Yes, deaf people still get out, they still attend events and they still know how to have a good time. But, as an event planner, why make that difficult? It's long past time we remove the barriers to equal access. Providing an interpreter is so easy and it is an act that deaf people definitely notice.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires auxiliary aids be available at any event that is open to the public, whether it is free or paid. Instead of assuming their event will draw a diverse audience, some event organizers still choose to make deaf attendees go through the steps of requesting an interpreter. This is a subtle form of audism, the belief that those who can not hear are inferior, and it is in fact discrimination.

Why put months of effort into an event if you don't want people to feel welcomed? Be proactive -- plan for deaf people, and people of all abilities, so that everyone can participate equally. Hiring interpreters for all your events is not difficult, it is not an outrageous financial burden and it is a responsible step in ensuring equal accessibility. There are even tax write offs and other forms of financial assistance available to assist organizations with ADA compliance.

Having interpreters at music venues, fairs or outdoor events may seem like a small detail, but for those who rely on ASL, it can make a huge difference. The deaf community truly appreciates organizations which consistently provide access, and regularly patronize establishments which are known to be deaf friendly. Deafness knows no racial, gender or religious boundaries; it is a beautiful mix of all cultures. I would love to live in a society that truly embraces diversity, instead of one that marginalizes it's own citizens.