*developed by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) with input from other deaf, hard of hearing, and DeafBlind consumer subject matter experts
January 25, 2023
The United States, as a nation, began as a protest and its history has been shaped by various marches and protests. Civil rights in this country have largely developed from significant instances of protests and marches such as: the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention and the Progressive Campaign for Suffrage; the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Civil Rights Movement; the 1963 March on Washington; the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign; the 1968 East Los Angeles Walkouts and the Chicano Movement; the 1969 Stonewall uprising and the Gay Liberation Movement; the 1977 504 Sit-In and Disability Rights Movement including the 1990 Deaf President Now Protests; the 1978 Longest Walk and the American Indian Movement; and continuing today with Black Lives Matter and protests against police brutality.
As this history demonstrates, marches and protests are an essential component of influencing American politics towards a more just and equitable society for all. However, too often, such marches and protests themselves are not accessible to people with disabilities, particularly people who are deaf, hard of hearing, DeafBlind and deaf with other disabilities.There are 48 million deaf and hard of hearing people in the United States, and it is important to ensure they are included.
This position statement is intended to provide guidance and best practices on communication accessibility to individuals and groups that are organizing marches, protests, rallies, sit-in’s, and other like events. Generally, there are no legal requirements for events hosted by individuals or community groups to be accessible but every community has deaf and hard of hearing members that need access to the community’s activities and events.
However, if an event is hosted by an organization that is considered a place of public accommodation pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and/or receives federal funding making it subject to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, then the organization and its events are mandated by these laws to be accessible including for deaf and hard of hearing people.
Necessity of Interpreting and Captioning
It is important to emphasize that amplification through microphones and loudspeakers or bullhorns does not make what is spoken understandable to most deaf and hard of hearing people. Assistive listening devices should be made available to deaf and hard of hearing individuals who can understand spoken speech, as such technology directly connects with their hearing devices.
By contrast, many within the deaf and hard of hearing population are not able to hear spoken speech and primarily use American Sign Language (ASL), which is a language completely distinct from any spoken language, and also may not be able to understand what is being said through captioning. On the other hand, many others within the same population do not know ASL and cannot hear well enough to understand spoken speech, so they rely on captioning to understand what is being said. As a result, it is necessary to provide both captioning and interpreting services to make all communications understandable to all segments of this population. Further, there may be other communication needs for different deaf and hard of hearing individuals, such as DeafBlind individuals (further explained below).
Every protest/march/event organizer should ensure that there is a visible location for accessibility requests to be made on websites, social media pages, and flyers. An email should be created to allow for accessibility requests, and this email should be directed to those who have the knowledge and ability to arrange for communication access.
Securing Appropriately Qualified Interpreters and Captioners
Too many protests and marches have not prepared in advance to include sign language interpreters or captioning to ensure that their communications are accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people. A great deal of logistical planning is required to ensure that there are sufficient number of appropriately qualified interpreters and captioners to handle the event. Where applicable, federal laws mandate the provision of “qualified interpreters” which are defined to mean interpreters who are “able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially, both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary.” Further, some states have additional requirements including licensure, registration, and/or permit that control which individuals may be able to provide sign language interpreting services.
Given that some events are planned and executed very quickly, sometimes within the span of 24 hours, it can be challenging to secure any interpreter or captioning service in time for the event. Optimally, organizers of marches and protests should begin to secure qualified interpreters and captioners at the outset of planning, as it takes time to find those with the right skills. Moreover, many interpreters and captioners often are booked for other work weeks in advance, so the sooner that the event organizers can seek out interpreters and captioners the better the chances are in securing those that are the right fit for the event.
Interpreters and captioners vary widely in skills and familiarity with different topics and subjects. Consequently, it is not simply a matter of getting any person who knows ASL or knows how to use captioning software. Sign language interpreting and captioning are both specialized fields that requires years of training and expertise. Moreover, it is especially important to secure interpreters and captioning service providers that have expertise in the subject matter of the event and also come from the community involved.
Event hosts must consider and take into account cultural nuances, cultural intelligence and comfort, and being able to glean implied meanings from what is said. Further, an interpreter who is not the right fit for the event will not look appropriate on stage. Deaf and hard of hearing viewers have the right and need for a cultural embodiment of the information being shared. The ability to connect with speakers past just the words makes a world of difference in how the material is presented in ASL.
It may be possible to find interpreters and captioners willing to volunteer and donate their time and service, and event organizers are encouraged to make an effort to find such volunteers. However, qualifications are paramount, and it is more important to secure appropriately qualified interpreters and captioners rather than to accept unqualified volunteers.
Ultimately, event organizers should consult with deaf and hard of hearing members of the affected community to ensure that the interpreters and captioners that are being considered are acceptable to them. The input of deaf and hard of hearing members of the community is absolutely essential to ensuring that the interpreters and captioners are qualified. Once interpreters and captioners are secured, it is essential to share with them in advance all information and resources involved in the program, including but not limited to: the identity of the presenters, performers, and officials that will be recognized; the content of all presentations; and any other preparation materials.
Crucial Importance of Visibility & Space Requirements
The provision of interpreters and captioning are only effective if they are visible to the deaf and hard of hearing people participating in the march or protest. Too often, the interpreters are prevented from being on a visible part of the stage due to a preference by event organizers to give the stage to the people speaking to the audience. However, the failure to provide an interpreter with a visible location defeats the purpose of having an interpreter. Similarly, captioning must be clearly visible to participants rather than being relegated to a small screen that is not placed in a visible location.
During health pandemics, it is understandable that stages are kept clear of too many people, but it is essential that interpreters be clearly visible at the front of a stage while being kept separate from speakers.
In addition, if there are cameras and large screens available for a large crowd, it is critical to have the interpreter on the screen so that deaf and hard of hearing individuals in the crowd would be able to see what is being said by looking at the large screen.
Marches and protests often have a stage or area where speakers are able to address the crowd. Optimally, such stage or presentation area should have a reserved area to allow for people with disabilities to be able to view the speeches and a specific portion of this area should be reserved for deaf and hard of hearing people so that they are able to see the interpreters or captioning. This is especially important for deaf and hard of hearing people who have additional disabilities such as those who are blind or those who use wheelchairs.
Some DeafBlind individuals who have some vision will need to have close proximity to the sign language interpreters or to a video that highlights the sign language interpreters. Other DeafBlind individuals who have little or no ability to use vision rely on more than one interpreter in a process called ProTactile interpreting, and space should be made for these DeafBlind individuals to have ProTactile interpreters with them. Protest/March organizers also need to be mindful to provide such communication access to DeafBlind individuals, and should plan ahead when aware that DeafBlind individuals want to participate in the protest/march.
Safety and Care for Interpreters and Captioners
Interpreters and captioners are individuals that can only provide optimal services if they receive support during marches and protests including but not limited to: shade, water, food, breaks, and restroom access. Ideally, there should be at least three interpreters for any event lasting more than one hour.
During pandemics such as COVID-19, there may be a desire for all personnel involved with an event to wear masks. However, to be understandable, interpreters cannot wear opaque masks when actively working due to the fact that understanding ASL requires seeing not only then hands but also the interpreter’s facial expressions. Ideally, the interpreter should not wear any mask. However, if masks are absolutely necessary, the best option is for interpreters to use clear face shields or clear masks.
CHECKLIST FOR COMMUNICATION ACCESSIBLE EVENTS
Prior to Event:
- Consult with deaf advocacy organizations and/or deaf and hard of hearing members of the affected community to assess that all planning goes well.
- Create a means for communication access requests and promote on all forms of media used.
- Book as far in advance (preferably at least a week) three (3) qualified ASL interpreters from the affected community that are familiar with the purpose and content of the event.
- Book as far in advance (preferably at least a week) a captioner who is able to provide Computer Assisted Realtime Translation (CART) services and who is from the affected community and familiar with the purpose and content of the event.
- Provide the interpreters and captioner with as much information in advance including the agenda, the names of all speakers/presenters, and any other terminology that will be used.
- Secure (usually can borrow) at least ten (10) assistive listening devices.
Set-Up of Event:
- Identify the area of the stage or presentation area where the ASL interpreter can stand and be visible to the deaf and hard of hearing participants.
- Include deaf and hard of hearing consultants and ASL interpreters and captioners in the set up of the area.
- If there are cameras that capture the stage area and provide a video feed to any screens in the area, make sure that the ASL interpreter is clearly visible on the screen throughout the entire event including all hand movements.
- Ensure that captioning is visible on all screens that are available, and that the captioning is put at the top of the screen.
- Set up an area near the stage or presentation area for people with disabilities with a particular area for deaf and hard of hearing people to be able to see the ASL interpreters and captioning.
- Establish signage indicating availability of ASL interpreter and captioning, as well as reserved area for deaf and hard of hearing people to see them.
- Establish signage indicating availability of assistive listening devices and where to get them.
- Provide any necessary clear face shields and clear masks to interpreters if necessary during a pandemic.
- Monitor visibility of the interpreter both on stage and on the screens, as well as the captioning at all times during the event.
- Ensure that the ASL interpreters and captioners have access to shade, water, food, breaks, and restroom access.
 All deaf, hard of hearing, DeafBlind, and deaf individuals with other disabilities will hereinafter be referred to as “deaf or hard of hearing” for the remainder of this document.
 47 U.S.C. § 12103(1); 29 U.S.C. § 794(d).
 28 C.F.R. § 36.104.
 See “National Multicultural Project Multicultural Interpreter Curriculum Modules: General Multicultural Knowledge and Sensitivity Multicultural Interpreting Skill Development and Decision-Making in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Communities,”