Sunday, March 8, 2015

What Happened Happens

It's not about you.
It's not about your love of the music.
It's not about your love of ASL.
It's not about your excitement of putting the two of them together and it's not about how many times you sang that song while signing it in your car.
It's not about your chance to interpret something big.

Recently platform and performance interpreting has gotten a lot of attention. Politicians, musicians, and Saturday Night Live. It's a cool spot light to be in. Or at least to pretend to be in while you share the spotlight with the real star. The person I am there to see. I am not there to see you. I didn't pay to see you. I didn't dream 17 years about seeing you live. I didn't learn all the lyrics to your songs. 

I didn't, because it's not about you.

Tonight we had a team of interpreters for the Garth Brooks concert in Buffalo, NY and as soon as the show started it was obvious that the interpreters were in the dark. They weren't prepared. The venue wasn't prepared. There was a small music stand light that the interpreter used for copies of the lyrics. When asked to illuminate her face instead of the papers she said she didn't want the light in her face because it would give her a headache. The light, illuminating her face, at a concert, while she interpreted into American Sign Language, a visual language that requires a well lit space, would give her a headache. Multiple times we told her we couldn't see her.

When this picture was taken, she stopped interpreting, told us to delete the picture, told us that she had not consented to having her picture taken, and told us that she wasn't going to interpret another word until we deleted the picture. Even when we tried to explain that we took it as evidence of the poor lighting and that her face wasn't even viewable & her reply was "delete my picture". 

A picture, taken in a public place, of a professional at an arena show, when her face was in the dark. She knew in that moment she had the power and the access. Delete my picture or I won't interpret. I have the power and I will withhold information. 

We didn't delete anything.

All of this was happening during the concert, during multiple songs, during an event we paid money for and waited 17 years for. Going was our Christmas present to ourselves this year.

There was also a desk lamp that they brought to try. A bright full force desk lamp that was turned on and off and on and off again. Our concert went from midnight to noon. The other patrons turned around to look at us with angry expressions. This was all happening during the concert. The concert they paid for and anticipated and waited for- all because one person, one hired "professional" wouldn't simply tilt the music stand light towards her face. 

So much happened at once. We asked her to move over, she started arguing with us. During a concert we were so over the moon to be at. Feelings of shock, anger, hurt, and more shock. Shock because no matter what, no matter how many times, we've seen it before, it's still shocking when someone makes something all about them. When in reality it's not about them, at all. We asked them to leave. Just leave and let us enjoy the rest of the concert. Interpreting is a privilege and she shouldn't have been there any more. 

There was another interpreter there. She asked if we would let her try before they leave. "I have Deaf parents", she said, "I want to try." She took over and she tilted the light towards her face and we could see her and she interpreted.

The rest of the show. 

Only once did they switch. And when they did, the other interpreter lowed the light again. Again, "we can't see you" we said. This time she said "you can't see me?" And she asked her team to look. Her team answered her, "no, I can't see you"- with that information she put her hands down and sat down. The other interpreter took over, repositioned the light, and continued to interpret. She sat 5 seats away from us and texted on her phone, danced in her seat to the music, shuffled papers, and seemingly enjoyed the show. The show she got paid to work at.

She's an interpreter here in Rochester. Someone I know. Someone I have 42 Facebook friends in common with. Someone whose name you know. Someone who works at RIT, VRS, and in the community. Someone who is nationally certified and someone who should have known better. She's not a random unskilled, uneducated signer. She's as professional as you can get, on paper.

The other interpreter who took over did a great job, without relief of a team, during a fast paced hard assignment. She did a great job mostly because her heart and her attitude were in the right place but here's the truth, it wasn't about her either.

It's about not being able to hear the lyrics of the songs but still wanting to know what's being said. 

It's about needing someone when you don't want to need anyone. 

It's about sharing your date night with two strangers out of necessity even when you'd rather not see anyone else in the world. 

It's about someone being rude and a bully and unprofessional on a night when you have a sitter for your two kids and all you want is to be happy.

It's about craving equality in an unequal world. 

And it's about the injustice that is lingering in our hearts because along the way, we met someone like you.