Tuesday, December 17, 2013

FAQ about Seattle Men's Chorus ASL interpreter issue

Reprinted verbatim; if RantWoman gets time, she has plenty to say about really good ASL interpreting, interpreting poetry in any language pair, and places where RantWoman has seen both done well. In the meantime....

FAQ to the open letter to the Seattle Men's Chorus

For those who have questions about the situation with the Seattle Men's
Chorus.  Here are the FAQ to explain what and why they are doing this.  The
deaf community hopes to have your support.


*1. Why are you attacking Kevin Gallagher?*
We can understand why for some it may seem this way, but no, it is not a
personal attack.  The issue here is that the Seattle Men’s Chorus has
placed their personal relationship with Kevin above the accommodation needs
of the deaf community.

We wanted to make a clear case about why Kevin is not qualified, and so it
was necessary for us to be specific and exact in the reasons why Kevin’s
signs are not clear.

The focus is primarily on holding the organization that has hired him
accountable for using someone who is a signer, and not qualified to be
interpreting at their venue.  We wanted to spotlight that the employment
and use of this person is resulting in barriers to access. Any focus on
Kevin Gallagher is secondary, and only as it pertains to his signing and
the lack of access his signs provide when he is being used as an
interpreter, a role he is not qualified for.  We are asking for changes at
the organizational level. We have addressed our concerns to the
organization.  We expect the organization to respond.

*2. I don’t know sign language, but when I watch him, he is beautiful to
watch/he is graceful/he is entertaining. What’s the problem?*
Interpreters are there for the deaf audience as a reasonable accommodation
under various laws including but not limited to American Disabilities Act.
Interpreters are not for entertainment purposes. Interpreters must provide
access. That is the sole reason they are used as accommodations, to remove
barriers. If they are entertaining, that is secondary to their primary
purpose. If Deaf audience members are not being accommodated and are not
receiving access, then that purpose is not being achieved.

*3. Why go so public? Why not send the letter privately?*
We felt that it was important to write an open letter because we believe
strongly in transparency, in allowing community at large to participate,
and to hold every one accountable, including the Seattle Men’s Chorus as
well as us.

In addition to the serious access and accommodation issues that are
affecting Deaf audience members, we also want to bring awareness to
non-signers. The hearing, non-signing audience is missing out as well –
they do not get to see what a true interpreter does – to see the heights of
artistic talent a truly skilled interpreter brings to the table.  Finally,
the men of the chorus suffer – their performances are not matched in skill
or integrity by a qualified interpreter.

We also know that past attempts at formal meetings and writing letters have
not worked. In fact, our initial attempt to contact was met with the same
response that past efforts have received- the insistence that Kevin
Gallagher is an accredited interpreter and is appropriately placed.  At
this point we realized that the efforts to dialog with the Seattle Men’s
Chorus through private channels would not yield anything but the same,
failed results, so it was necessary to change tactics.

*4. How does it feel to see Kevin or an unqualified signer on stage?*
Imagine that you are a French-speaking citizen. You discover that there
will be a French interpreter at a meeting. You attend the meeting, only to
discover that the interpreter speaks in broken French, and that at times,
he is undecipherable.  After the meeting, you approach the organizer and
explain. They dismiss you – the interpreter is just a nice guy! He sounds
so pretty! Everyone else likes him! You are left baffled and confused.
People approach the interpreter after the meeting and praise him for his
talents.  Your heart breaks to see this happen.  Someone has just spoken
broken French for hours, and nobody seems to recognize this.  You feel
alone, belittled and ignored.  You are unable to follow the proceedings of
the meeting, and you cringe in shame every time he mispronounces a word or
stumbles over a sentence.  Yet, he stands around after every meeting and
people come up to him and praise him for his work.  You scream and shout,
and nobody believes you.  When you bring up the question of his skill, you
are told that you cannot possibly understand or properly evaluate his
interpretation, despite the fact that you speak native French, and nobody
else at the meeting does.  For years, there are rumblings underground about
“that French interpreter”, and people are warned to stay away from meetings
that he interprets. You reach out the authorities, but they do not listen.
What do you do?  Do you cautiously and carefully approach the authorities
and ask them for permission to talk about this? No. You do not. You open up
this for the public to see, for everybody to know.  You may lose your case,
but you know you are right, that this person does not speak fluent French,
and you are tired of incomprehensible meetings year after year.

*5. How could this have gone on for so long?*
We don’t know. It is awful that it has. We do know that it is extremely
difficult to get appropriate access in the first place.  Deaf people
constantly have to fight to get qualified interpreters. We do know this
happens every day, everywhere. It is, unfortunately, not an isolated
incident.  It shouldn’t happen. There are laws in place to prevent it. Yet
it happens constantly and it is not okay.  Most of the time, no one knows
except the few Deaf people who are experiencing it and it is extremely hard
to get people to understand and pay attention, much less do something about
*6. Why now?*
Because it is timely. Because for a hot second, the media and the hearing
people are aware of unqualified interpreters and just how awful it is when
they are used.  This is an opportunity to continue to educate and spread
awareness, while the world is still paying attention.
Posted by Katie Roberts at 5:46


  1. What are your credentials that qualify you to comment on musical performances? Can you hear well enough to critique how well choreography conforms to a ballet?

    What, exactly, makes you think you're qualified to judge the MUSICAL content of a visual interpretation of a musical work?

    In your spare time, how about interpreting Clair de Line in ASL.

  2. Thank you so much for asking.

    1. If you click on the Deaf and Deaf-blind tag you should find several entries about interpreting, the Seattle Men's chorus issue, and some of my experiences observing ASL interpretation of musical events.

    2. Thank you for the suggestion that I try an ASL interpretation of Claire de Lune. As an ethical spoken language interpreter whose knowledge of ASL is negligible but not zero, the first thing I would do with that task is decline and suggest that someone find a qualified ASL interpreter.

    3. I am aware that i have some midlife hearing loss so I was pleased to observe in the most recent media accounts of the Seattle Men's chorus concert that they were also using CART. However, my main personal accessibility issue has to do with being legally blind and acres of tiny print in concert programs. I have been around classical music and performing of various kinds my whole life. In fact, I recently had the pleasure of attending the Seattle Symphony's performance of the whole Messiah, not just the Hallelujah chorus. At one point a singer with a very big vibrato was singing about something to do with shaking. I found myself wondering, based on what I know of how different Deaf people I know experience musice who might have enough auditory frame of reference to appreciate the juxtaposition of that technique and that text.

    Is that sufficient response?