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Local Organizations Making it Easier for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing People to Participate

Signing during services at Mary, Queen of Peace Parish

Hearing folks are welcome! ASL interpretation provided.

While Pittsburghers may be more accustomed to seeing offers for ASL translation provided for the Deaf/hard of hearing and not the other way around, this role reversal—advertised for a Dec. 13 ASL Slam hosted by the City of Asylum—is just one way in which the organization is inclusive of the local Deaf community.

“All three performers are Deaf and performed in ASL,” said Darin Lee, City of Asylum’s programs and accessibility coordinator. “There was a team of ASL interpreters on hand to interpret the ASL performances for audience members who weren’t deaf.”

The ASL Slam was the second time that the nonprofit organization has featured Deaf artists in its lineup. Lee said that the first ASL Slam was held in 2021. Thanks to a generous grant from the FISA Foundation, City of Asylum had sufficient funding to host that Dec. 13 performance

as well as to host two future events in 2023.

Douglas Ridloff, an ASL Slam performer

One of those future ASL Slams is happening on Feb. 7 and features nationally renowned storyteller Lisa McBee. Two more local ASL performers from the Pittsburgh area also will appear but have yet to be determined, said Lee. A third ASL Slam is planned for April on a date to be determined.

At each of the ASL Slams, Deaf artists will perform poetry and tell stories. “It’s such a lovely way to come together to learn about each other’s experiences,” said Lee. “I hope it’s something that everyone can make time to experience.”

Audience members have two options for attending the ASL Slams. They can request free, in-person tickets or watch a complimentary live stream of the event. The performance venue only holds 140 people comfortably, so Lee recommended requesting in-person tickets as soon as they become available.

In addition to the ASL Slams, City of Asylum also provides ASL interpreters to their Deaf/hard-of-hearing guests on request for all events. The nonprofit uses professional interpreters from Sign Language Interpreting Professionals (SLIP) of Pittsburgh.

Danielle Filip, chief operating officer of SLIP, said the interpreting agency has provided services to City of Asylum for past events. The agency is also presenting a professional development opportunity for City of Asylum staff in January who want to learn more about working with the Deaf community and the interpreters who make public programs and services more accessible.

“It’s important for folks to realize that if you offer a service to the public, you need a sign language interpreter because you could have a Deaf person as a customer,” said Filip. “Sometimes I hear from businesses that they’ve never had anybody ask for interpretation services. If you knew you couldn’t access something, would you try? Probably not.”

She encouraged businesses to make interpreters available and to freely advertise their willingness to be accessible to the Deaf community.

City of Asylum isn’t the only organization in the Pittsburgh area going the extra mile to be welcoming and inclusive of the Deaf community. Mary, Queen of Peace Parish in Pittsburgh, has a Deaf Community Ministry program that makes church services more accessible for Deaf and hard-of-hearing parishioners.

Karen Shepherd, the coordinator of Deaf Ministries, said the parish offers accommodations that include Deaf Bible study, Deaf Rosary, a signed Liturgy, and even a Deaf choir.

“The Deaf can’t hear the songs, but they can feel the beat of the musical instruments and the vibration of the music,” said Shepherd, adding that the members of the choir are aware that the songs are a critical part of the Mass.

“They have a cantor singing the music during the Mass and when that happens, the Deaf choir gets up and signs the song while accompanying the cantor,” she added.

Another popular accommodation for the Deaf community is the church’s audio loop system. It’s a wired system with a telecoil that hooks into the parish’s sound system. People with hearing aids or cochlear implants with telecoils can pick up the signal from the sound system and have it sent directly to their hearing devices. “Since their hearing devices already are adjusted to their needs, they get a much clearer sound,” said Shepherd.

Mass is held at 11 a.m. every Sunday at the parish, located at 407 Grandview Ave., Pittsburgh. The church provides ASL interpreters for Deaf and hard-of-hearing parishioners at the service. Deaf parishioners can reach out to Shepherd at 412-481-8380 if they need further assistance.

The University of Pittsburgh also prioritizes inclusivity for the Deaf community and hard-of-hearing at its public events. Leigh Culley, Pitt’s Disability Resource & Services director, said all university departments are encouraged to include information about how to request an ASL interpreter or live captioning on advertisements and RSVP forms for events.

“We have a commitment to equal access,” Culley said. Her department contracts with a third-party provider for ASL and live captioning services. Whichever department is hosting the event is responsible for covering the costs of those services for their guests.

ASL and live captioning applies to all public events, including athletics. However, when games are held off campus—such as at Acrisure Stadium—those facilities have their own agreements for providing live captioning and ASL interpreters.

To ensure that they receive accommodation, Culley said that she recommends making the request as soon as possible. “With ASL particularly, the more advance notice you can provide to us, the more likely we can meet your needs since we use a third-party provider,” she said.

Nationwide, a shortage of ASL interpreters sometimes means that there are not enough to go around.

Pittsburgh Glass Center in Bloomfield is another local business that goes the extra mile to accommodate and include the Deaf community and hard-of-hearing residents. Kate Duncan, the center’s outreach and accessibility coordinator, said that the center began offering ASL interpreting services during its Hot Jams live hot glass demonstrations held on the first Friday of each month about 10 years ago.

With its new partnership with SLIP, the center can now provide interpretation services for all classes and programs offered at the center on request. “Once we partnered with SLIP, we decided to expand our ASL services to all patrons free of charge,” said Duncan. “We just ask for two weeks’ notice when someone needs an interpreter since we’re working with a third-party provider. We want to ensure we have someone scheduled and available.”

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