Intersectionality Also Matters to Intersectional Signing DDBDDHHLD BIPOCs (2nd ed.)
(Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, Hard of hearing, Late Deafened-Black, Indigenous, Persons of Color)
There's a layer, one that onsite event/accessibility coordinators often fail to realize that intersectionality not only matters to intersectional hearing BIPOC attendees but also to intersectional signing DDBDDHHLD-BIPOC attendees. I hope this blog post serves to raise deeper awareness and/or serves as a reminder for hearing non-BIPOC and BIPOC onsite event/accessibility coordinators when organizing intersectional BIPOC related events involving intersectional signing DDBDDHH BIPOC attendees.
Often, when asking for certified/qualified intersectional American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters of color, "anti-discrimination" and "anti-preferential treatment" twisted arguments hinder intersectional signing DDBDDHHLD BIPOCs' quests for authentic and meaningful access to intersectional BIPOC-centered performance art and social justice related events. When these arguments are misused, I question some onsite event/accessibility coordinators' understanding of employment and disability discrimination related laws (Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Americans with Disabilities Act Titles II and III and their amendments). Both Title VII and ADA Titles II and III trump whatever local policies are created. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (CRA) of 1964 and its amendments (employment discrimination laws), non-persons of color (white) employees are not a protected group on the basis of "race" in settings, services and events centered on black, indigenous, persons of color. In these situations, hiring interpreters and transliterators of color is often a "business necessity" under CRA of 1964 Title VII--which enables compliance with Titles II and III under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and its amendments. Under ADA Titles II and III, "primary consideration" shall be given to consumers and "effective communication" shall be determined by consumers. The "anti-preferential treatment" argument derails the core issue, decenters DDBDDHH BIPOCs consumers and focuses on the interpreters' needs. The National Registry Interpreters for the Deaf has specific member sections including one for "Interpreters and Transliterators of Color" (http://www.rid.org/membership/member-sections/). Intersectional DDBDDHHLD consumers have been making and continue to make their communication access needs known everywhere; thus the reason for these member sections. After all, the ASL interpreters are here because of DDBDDHHLD folks. Not the other way around.
Some onsite event/accessibility coordinators will also justify hiring non-BIPOC ASL interpreters on the basis of their "advanced degrees." Though an advanced degree is one measure, more often than not, the DDBDDHHLD community requested intersectional BIPOC ASL interpreters also have advanced degrees and certifications. Thus, the "advanced degrees" argument is a silly one. To elaborate, in all of my years in academia, work and social justice circles as an intersectional femme of color,* no amount of degrees can fully enable non-BIPOC ASL interpreters to fully internalize the experiences of oppression marginalized intersectional BIPOCs face, the multiple and complex truths and realities they hold, the liberation they experience and the associated language and linguistic nuances that naturally emerge and evolve from these intersecting identities and experiences. For example, being a femme does not necessarily make a credentialed non-BIPOC femme ASL interpreter qualified to interpret for an intersectional BIPOC-femme centered event. A credentialed non-Black POC ASL interpreter may not necessarily be qualified to interpret for an intersectional Black-centered event. A credentialed non-Indigenous (NDN) POC may not necessarily be qualified to interpret for an intersectional NDN-centered event. And so forth. From an ethical and social justice responsibility perspective, I encourage non-BIPOC ASL interpreters to consider deferring intersectional BIPOC-centered event assignments unless they are specifically asked by the intersectional DDBDDHHLD BIPOC community/consumer. The argument goes back to ADA Titles II and III clauses: "effective communication" shall be determined by consumers and "primary consideration" shall be given to consumers. The status quo argument--"no complaints against their selected non-BIPOC ASL interpreters”—also derails, dismisses, disempowers and demonstrates an unwillingness to reach a deeper understanding of the needs of intersectional DDBDDHHLD BIPOC consumers. I no longer subscribe to academia as the sole source of education and social justice consciousness.* There are many other avenues for attaining education, required skills and professional training experiences. Degrees do not always translate into effective interpreting skills for intersectional DDBDDHHLD BIPOCs. It is even more troubling and concerning when onsite event/accessibility coordinators make unilateral and primary determination of ASL interpreters--even when they don't possess advanced ASL fluency skills to screen ASL interpreters. *[Disclaimer: I am a degreed and light skinned multiracial/ethnic Latina]
Lastly, imagine, looking forward to a rare opportunity as an intersectional signing DDBDDHHLD BIPOC only to be met with hurdles one already experiences on several fronts on a daily basis. Hearing privilege is being able to attend events without worrying about communication access and without having to spend arduous amount of time and energy advocating for communication access for rare opportunities. It can be emotionally and physically draining and deeply hurtful when hearing onsite event/accessibility coordinators do not remain consumer centered after communication access needs are made known. I encourage hearing onsite event/accessibility coordinators to truly examine how their hearing privilege and other unpacked privileges (white, cisgender, heterosexual, able, class, etc.) can impact “effective communication” access for intersectional DDBDDHHLD BIPOCs. There are many ways of doing this: 1) “listening with love and understanding” (Stephanie “Najma” Johnson) much more than talking/signing in spaces where one’s privileges may be dominant (De’Lasha Singleton’s 10% rule); 2) researching and reading a wealth of online articles and vlogs by intersectional BIPOCs and DDBDDHHLD BIPOCs; 3) processing and unpacking privileges in quiet or with other social justice conscious folks; 4) making amends with those harmed by unexamined/unpacked privileges; 5) sharing unpacking experiences with others with similar privileges; 6) and believing that the intersectional DDBDDHHLD BIPOC community and allies, degreed and nondegreed, are capable of knowing what’s best for them (e.g. sometimes an intersectional signing DDBDDHHLD BIPOC liaison may set up an ASL Facebook event page to gather preferences for ASL interpreters for a related intersectional BIPOC event where several intersectional signing DDBDDHHLD BIPOCs and allies may be in attendance). After all, wouldn’t that make an onsite event/accessibility coordinator’s job easier?
Note: This 2nd edition relfects minor corrections and updated information to original article dated 5/21/15.
© Rossana Reis, 2016