“It’s hard sometimes, because we’re not to interject our own thoughts or feelings. I’m purely just providing information.”
While live music and the hard-of-hearing might seem like an unlikely duo, more and more events are employing the services of sign interpreters for their deaf patrons. “Word has gotten around to the deaf community that they have a voice,” says Sara Groves, interpreter manager at RISE Interpreting. “They have the option to go and enjoy music just as anyone else would with the help of a facilitator to provide them communication access.”
RISE Interpreting is a family-run business that serves the deaf community of Southern California. In recent years, more of their services have been tailored toward live music festivals, widespread events that can be enjoyed by any person — no matter their hearing ability. Viral videos of Chance the Rapper’s touring sign interpreter and hip-hop interpreter Holly Maniatty have brought greater awareness to the assistance utility
Translation is often a challenge because there is no one-on-one correlation between American Sign Language and English. It is the interpreter’s responsibility to understand its meaning and render accurate portrayal. “There are songs that I’ve sung a hundred times and then, after using the many research tools that we use, I’ll realize that I need to change how I’m signing it. Because that is not what they’re meaning in the song,” Groves says. “It’s hard sometimes, because we’re not to interject our own thoughts or feelings. I’m purely just providing information.”
Groves picked up sign language at the age of 6. A deaf girl in her classroom had been “mainstreamed,” or integrated into regular schooling, and many of the students learned to sign from her interpreter. In high school, Groves took ASL classes and had deaf friends. Now she has been a certified interpreter for more than 13 years, working anywhere from K-12 classrooms, to public events and other medical needs.
“I realized that I had a skill that most people didn’t,” Groves recalls. “I loved finding different ways to translate information so there was a visual representation. It was a challenge for me every day and from then on, I was hooked. I kept wanting to experience more situations and settings. And I just kept going from there.”
Groves first got into the field of live music interpreting in 2010 when she was offered an opportunity interning as a performance interpreter. “Back then, we only had a few select deafs at festivals and concerts who would request interpreters,” she says. “Now, we have groups of deafs going and enjoying those events because they have that inclusion.” Groves has since worked her way up to where she is now coordinating staff at concerts and large-scale festivals — including Coachella, Rolling Loud and Electric Daisy Carnival — where sign interpretation is requested.
Concert promoters are able the gauge if interpretation assistance will be needed based on demand by hard-at-hearing patrons. Those with hearing difficulties can log onto a festival’s website and request an interpreter through its Accessibility or Americans with Disabilities Act page. While most major festivals normally provide services for top-billing acts, not every set will always have an interpreter. This is usually determined by demand or availability. From there, the festival will reach out to contractors like RISE Interpreting to sort accommodations for the event.