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Accessibility: 1, Inequality: 0

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By: Mariam Janvelyan
Managing Intern

You want to know something incredible?

Great, because I’m about to tell you something that is going to give you hope for a generation of new signers.

I have been in ASL classes for two years, and as our last quarter was approaching, our professor, Benjamin Lewis, was racking his brain for a big final project that would allow us to give back to the Deaf community. He refused to let our hard work die out, and this stubborn man came up with a big project that had us all shaking from fear. Now, many of you already know the stress that finals week brings, but this project had added on an entirely new dimension of terror; I have never seen anyone go white that quickly from the prospect of a final. But I will tell you something else. Fear aside, there was a fire behind the eyes of my classmates, a kind of excitement I hadn’t seen come through so obviously before. We were ready, and the expectations were high.

Is your curiosity piqued yet? Are you wondering what exactly is this amazing project I’ve been going on and on about?

The project revolves around a commonplace issue for Deaf people: accessibility. Think of the last time you spontaneously decided to go to a museum. Chances are, if you’re hearing, you’d get a tour guide that would walk you from place to place and explain everything in that exhibit, or you would get a pair of earphones that would present the information to you auditorily. If you are Deaf, they’d drop a big, clunky textbook into your hands that had the script, in English, for each exhibit; you would fake a smile and act grateful, because you’re a nice person who has sadly become accustomed to this kind of inequality. But hey, some places didn’t even have that.

See, Ben is an adventurous person, and he decided last minute to go to a museum, only to realize there was absolutely NO accessibility for Deaf people whatsoever. He looked around at people who were entranced by the exhibits; there were exclamations of shock followed by tears as they learned about the Holocaust. He saw all these people feeling emotions he was being denied access to.

So he decided to make a change. For over a year he contacted the highest administrative officials of the museum, and finally got hold of them. Once they heard his project proposal, they were completely thrilled and on board. We received permission, went to the museum, recorded all the audio, transcribed it, glossed it, translated it into ASL, and filmed ourselves signing it in front of a green screen. There were 14 of us, and 18 exhibits, so many had to do two videos. The weeks after that were spent editing, captioning, and perfecting these videos.

The final version (or as Ben likes to call it, version 1.0) will be released at the Museum of Tolerance on iPADs they will provide for Deaf people to access when they please. Each exhibit will be numbered, so as the exhibit itself lights up, all you need to do is click the corresponding number on the iPAD and a video will pop up of someone signing the same information.

So, how’s that for accessibility?

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This blog post represents the opinion of the author and not necessarily the views supported by The Deaf Dream.

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