In the absence of ASL interpreting services in official presidential events, DPAN has commissioned several ASL interpreters to provide interpreting services on the organization’s livestream during the election season.
The US presidential debates have never commissioned ASL interpreters to provide interpreting services for the event, forcing millions of Deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers to rely on a flawed, live closed captioning system to experience one of the presidential election season’s most important events. In response to the debate’s lack of ASL interpreters, the Deaf Professional Arts Network (DPAN) has livestreamed the debates with ASL interpreters assigned to each party during the debate. Along with two other ASL interpreters who were assigned to interpret President Trump and debate moderator Chris Wallace, deaf ASL interpreter Regan Thibodeau expressed excitement over the chance to push for more representation for Deaf and hard-of-hearing citizens.
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reports that 37.5 million American adults over the age of 18 report some trouble hearing, and nearly one million Americans are functionally deaf according to the US Census Bureau. Responding to increased calls for ASL interpreting services, the Commission on Presidential Debates released a statement promising a format change for upcoming debates but has not made any official statement yet on improved real-time accessibility options.
This led organizers at DPAN to take it upon themselves to provide the vital interpreting service during the first debate. A non-partisan organization, DPAN was originally created to extend music and music culture to those who are Deaf and hard of hearing, but the organization has now moved into interpreting the debates to ensure the same community has equal access to voting information.
“Impartiality, people really need to be aware of the importance of that. Who I am interpreting for does not reflect who I am as a person. It does not reflect my beliefs and values. It only reflects my interpreting value of access,” Thibodeau said. “It’s not just making faces. It’s not just being animated. There are linguistic meanings behind it and nuances when you tilt your head to the left, to the right, to the back, to the front. It is very complicated. Not something you can learn in two years at all.”