Jun. 29, 2015

Intersectional Accessibility At Film Screenings: A Personal Experience

As a Queer DeafBlind Disabled Neurodivergent Latina, it's important to be able to access opportunities for exploring infinite possibilities of being. On the night of June 12th 2015, I attended the open captioned Queer Women of Color Film Festival hosted by Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project (QWOCMAP) at Brava Theatre in San Francisco, California. It was beautiful to witness reserved seating for those who needed them: "Deaf/Hard of Hearing" (American Sign Language-ASL), mobility, service dogs, scent free, etc. This social justice consciousness should be the norm everywhere and not just an afterthought. Hearing sighted abled folks do not have to think twice about accessibility logistics when spontaneously outing for a good time. So, in a sense, this event made me feel welcomed. Thank you everyone who made it possible to share this space with many intersectional queer and transgender folks of color. I would like to share with you my personal experience and dilemmas I faced and offer possible solutions. I hope large venues (i.e. theaters), organizations and the intersectional Deaf community will work together to implement these solutions when planning for film screenings or other events.

Firstly, I had to negotiate between three issues: being able to "see" the screen, being able to "read" the captions, and being able to "see" the ASL interpreters on stage. I had to forgo most of the information from ASL interpretation situated on stage before and after the film screenings; hence, I sat near the middle of the theatre so I can "see" the whole screen within my narrow tunnel vision and be able to read the captions. (An ASL interpreter guided me to my seat, as there were no signing ushers. No pun intended.) And so, I was a lone patron separated from my peers welling up with so many feelings and emotions...playing catch up from reading captions to quickly viewing the "fast" moving scenes before they disappear into the next scene. After the screenings, a friend from the reserved signing “Deaf/Hard of hearing” front row section came up to my row to greet me. I appreciated this little moment of interaction.

Another dilemma was contemplating whether or not to bravely walk down the stairs towards the front to get a better view of ASL interpreters during “Questions and Answers” segment; after the film screenings, some patrons were leaving early. At one point during Q & A, one of the ASL interpreters in her athletic wear ran up the stairs to interpret my question to one of the several filmmakers. Grins. By the time I decided to head down with the assistance of the "off" interpreter, Q & A had already finished. I thanked the ASL interpreters and as I headed back up the stairs, a magical opportunity arose when Skyler Cooper of "Hero Mars" happened to be right next to me within my view (I voted for S.C. for best film). With interpreters nowhere in "sight" (finger snaps), I tapped Skyler Cooper to sign "thank you" and motioned for a hug. And so we hugged. There were other film screenings that tickled and touched my soul such as “Swanicorn: A Genderqueer Fairytale” (2015) by Jaq Nguyen Victor, “Sex, Politics and Sticky Rice” (2014) by Tina Takemoto, and the “Vow of Silence” (2014) by Be Steadwell.

Lastly, large print and electronic program booklet options (i.e. ISSUU) in addition to the usual tiny mini program booklet would step up the game for this century. By the time the show started, we were required to turn off mobile devices so I couldn't take pictures of the tiny program booklet and best film voting slip to zoom and read. (One of the interpreters ended up helping me with the voting process.)

Because QWOCMAP's budget and grants for accessibility were maxed out to cover ASL interpretation and captioning, tactile ASL interpreters or signing guides were not available to me. A semi-solution* would have been projecting the filmmakers and ASL interpreters on the same screen since the screen was not in use before and after the film screenings. The other option would be to utilize FaceTime App on IPad (sharpest viewing quality) but the iPad would need to be directly in front of ASL interpreters on a stand, potentially blocking the view for sighted signing Deaf and Hard of hearing attendees. Furthermore, this would not work for more than one DeafBlind person who is able to use this feature. Live streaming depends on Wi-Fi connection and is very blurry, fuzzy and undependable, compromising the necessary quality of sharp viewing vantage of ASL interpreters. In sum, theaters, organizations and the intersectional Deaf community will need to work closer together to implement alternative technological solutions. These logistics issues were most likely not factored in when reserving back section seats for those with service animals, i.e. guide dogs for the blind. I’ll give you a moment to think about this. This logic does not make sense for those who have vision needs. Neither does this make sense for sighted signing Deaf, DeafDisabled and Hard of hearing folks with hearing dogs who need to watch the ASL interpreters on stage. After all, wouldn't projecting the Microphone Controller (MC), Introduction and Q & A segment, and ASL interpreters on the main screen make sense for patrons in the middle to back sections? (*I prefer tactile ASL interpreter for more descriptive visual information).

My desire is that we live in a world where other venues and organizations emulate this model of accessibility so that Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled Hard of Hearing, Late Deafened and Disabled Queer and Transgender folks of color may be able to take advantage of the rare opportunities available to them. My residual sight privilege has enabled me to receive bits and pieces of the QWOC film festival screenings. We still have a long way for DeafBlind folks. Something to think about. From what I understood, ASL interpretation was covered through an accessibility grant under California Arts Council and National Arts and Disability Program. Captioning for 35+ mini films was done in-house costing $5000. I encourage individual mini-filmmakers to take up the challenge of learning to caption their own films to free up budget for gaps in accessibility. It takes some getting used to but once one gets the hang of it, it becomes second nature. After all, isn't that what intersectionality is all about?

© Rossana Reis, 2015