Separate is Not Equal | Deaf Performers Were Not Included At The Halftime Show

Separate is Not Equal | Deaf Performers Were Not Included At The Halftime Show

By Amanda Tuite

February 14, 2022

The National Football Conference champion Los Angeles Rams defeated the American Football Conference champion Cincinnati Bengals, 23–20. Congratulations to the LA Rams for winning the Superbowl trophy. Yet, the entire programming of the Super Bowl left a bad taste in my mouth.

As a deaf person, I always anticipated seeing the national anthem and “America the Beautiful” performed by professional deaf entertainers who use American Sign Language.

This time, we saw an influx in news publications leading up to the Super Bowl event to see the Deaf performers on television. I’m letting out a sigh of relief, “Finally! It’s about time that we are starting to see the inclusion of Deaf people on the screen for millions of people who have hearing loss to be able to have access.”

It ended up becoming a significant disappointment for the deaf community as the ASL performers were excluded from the halftime performances and cast aside in a dark area where it’s difficult to see the signers. Did you see the ASL performers on screen? Were you able to view the entire show in ASL on your TV screen? I didn’t think so. The ASL performers were put in the endzone, in the dark, where it isn’t easy to see the performance. The only way to see the ASL performance was through different programming that only a limited number of people knew about it and could access. How is that equitable communication access? Another case in point, it was not captioned for our deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers to make it worse. Captioning is another form of accommodation that millions of people rely on for accessibility. I’ve heard stories from hearing people who prefer to view closed captions during music performances. The captioning was not visible on the screen during most of the show, and it’s like listening to a concert without sound.

Thanks to Sara (@adventuresindeafed) for explaining this perfectly. Making Deaf people work extra hard to get what hearing people get effortlessly is NOT access.

Did you know that during the ASL rendition of the National Anthem & “America the Beautiful,” a man was standing in front of Sandra Mae Frank, pacing back and forth, taking his hat off, and scratching his head, blocking the view? In addition to the barriers to communication, the captioning on the NBCSports app was not showing at all.

I realized it was never about providing access to the deaf, hard of hearing, and DeafBlind people. I see this as an act of tokenism.

Tokenism: “the practice of doing something (such as hiring a person who belongs to a minority group) only to prevent criticism and give the appearance that people are being treated fairly.” – Merriam Webster.

Deaf people were excluded from viewing the ASL rendition of the Superbowl performance. How many deaf people knew that they had to download an app or view a specific link to be able to enjoy the programming of SuperBowl Halftime performance or the national anthem? This type of accessibility requires the user to be savvy with technology and only accessible to those who subscribe to cable companies.

I got so many questions from the deaf community:

How do I access the app?

How does it work?

Where do I find the ASL show?

Why are the ASL performers not on stage?

Where are the captions?

It was overwhelming that I ended up spending the first half of the Superbowl making a video in ASL explaining to our deaf viewers how to set up access to view the ASL performers. I barely managed to help only a few deaf people in time before the Halftime Show.

Think of it, hearing people have the privilege to enjoy the show by just turning on the channel, watching it at a restaurant, or simply by showing up at the game. Functional equivalency means having the same benefits and access to entertainment, just like hearing people. Functional equivalency is ensuring that deaf people can also have the privilege of enjoying the show at a friend’s house party, restaurant, or by showing up at the game. How is it possible to provide equitable access? The answer is right in front of you. Broadcast the ASL performers on a pip screen on the TV screen while on they are the stage for everyone to see while displaying accurate captioning. What’s the point of hiring Deaf ASL performers when you are not planning on including them on stage for deaf viewers to see? Are we ashamed to show Deaf people on TV during the Superbowl Halftime Show?

What will it take for deaf, hard of hearing, and DeafBlind people to be heard, seen, and valued as humans of society?

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