by Joy Santos
It has been a busy and exciting time for my daughter, Teanna, and I as we have had a several opportunities to attend local events that are accessible for the Deaf community.
In May 2014, Sean Forbes, a Deaf musician, visited Vancouver to perform. Our city was one of the stops during his tour across North America. His concert was held at the Broadway Campus of Vancouver Community College and required the purchase of tickets. Many people had attended, as the theatre was almost full. There were varying ages present, from younger children with their families, teenagers, and adults. This event was accessible because all of his songs are performed in ASL, and there was also a large screen with the song lyrics as the stage backdrop. Loud music and appropriate lighting effects added a nice touch. Aside from his musical performance, Sean Forbes also made sure to include visits to both the elementary and secondary Provincial Schools for the Deaf as part of his itinerary. In the schools, he gave inspirational talks to the students, entertained questions and comments, took photos with them, and held a musical performance as well. The response from the students was a welcoming and positive one, evident in their conversations with one another, and at home with their families. It seemed to encourage them to dream and think positively… to be interested in music, dancing, and performing… some children even mimicked Sean Forbes’ attire. I feel that he is such an iconic and inspirational role model. To learn more about Sean Forbes, the band, and their music, visit http://www.deafandloud.com
Also in May, we attended a fundraiser that was hosted by Shayla Sabbagh, the first Deaf woman to compete in the Miss Universe Canada beauty pageant. Shayla was introduced to me by a friend who also happened to be her personal trainer who was helping her prepare for the competition. She had lost her hearing as an adult, while attending college, and has since then embraced the culture and language. She and her family learned ASL, and she also took lip-reading classes. Shayla also has epilepsy. The fundraiser was for Operation Smile, her charity of choice, and was held at a local restaurant. We had primarily only been communicating via social media, and I also learned more about her through various websites. The fundraiser would be my first time meeting her in person, and, upon doing so, my preconceived notions and stereotypes of what a pageant queen may be like instantly vanished. Yes, Shayla was definitely poised and articulate, hair perfectly coiffed, makeup flawless, and stunningly dressed. However, I felt like she could have just as easily been wearing a much simpler outfit, and would still exude beauty and confidence. She was very cordial with all her guests, as well as candid and down-to-earth in all her interactions. The event featured raffle draws for door prizes, a candy and cupcake bar, a specially priced food menu, and live music for entertainment. It was accessible because there was an interpreter present, and it enabled my 6 year old Teanna (the only Deaf guest J) to enjoy the event and practice autonomy. It was a fantastic opportunity to mix and mingle, and I am so happy to have found a friend in Shayla – and yet another role model for my daughter. Shortly after the fundraiser, Shayla went off to Toronto for the competition, and successfully won the Miss Congeniality award! A heart of gold, and loved by everyone, indeed! To learn more about Shayla and her journey, read her bio at http://missuniversecanada.ca/2014-national-finalists/shayla-sabbagh/
The world renowned Broadway musical, Wicked, toured Vancouver in the month of June. Another local organization, Family Network for Deaf Children (FNDC), collaborated with Broadway Across Canada to provide ASL interpreters for the performance one evening. The interpreters were fully funded for by Broadway Across Canada. I learned about this opportunity through a flyer that my daughter had brought home from school, which had also contained a discount code for ticket purchase. Knowing that this was possible excited me! Teanna and I enjoyed our night out to watch the show. It goes without saying that the performance itself was nothing short of spectacular! However, the added component of having interpreters present added a more personal touch to the experience. That evening, we had bumped into a number of familiar faces from the Deaf community. There was a group of women who seemed to be enjoying a girls-night-out, a couple out on a special date-night, a group of college students hanging out, and Teanna had even recognized some staff from her school! As a parent of a young child, I was overcome with emotion. I was reminded of the time not too long ago, upon finding out that she was Deaf, when I had felt overwhelmed and sad at the assumption that she would miss out on experiences such as these. I remembered thinking that she would not be able to enjoy music, I wondered what kind of social life would be available to her in the future, and I had thought about numerous situations where she would possibly be excluded from. Yet here she was, at a Broadway Musical, absolutely fixated on the performance. She had made comments such as “I can feel the music in my chest,” “The costumes and their makeup are beautiful!” “Their dancing is funny,” and some pertaining to the storyline that she was getting from the interpreters there. Later on, I was put in touch with the gentleman who was responsible for arranging this opportunity for access. I had thanked him and told him that the forethought in providing access via ASL interpreters was greatly appreciated. I explained that providing language was just the tip of the iceberg, and that the best part of such a gesture was that it had brought individuals from the community together for an amazing experience. For more information on Broadway Across Canada in Vancouver, visit http://Vancouver.broadway.com
School’s out for Summer! This means plenty of time to explore what the city had to offer! The Vancouver Aquarium has recently introduced the availability of accessible tours. For us, this meant that volunteer student interpreters would be available during our visit to provide access during the shows and programs there. Arranging for this was such a simple process. It can be done via e-mail or a telephone call. I called to inquire about the service. I was asked when I had planned to come by for a visit, how many people would be in the group, and how many individuals would need an ASL interpreter. My contact had also provided me with a schedule of the shows that would be taking place on the day of our visit, and asked me which ones I would be trying to attend. The aquarium makes all the arrangements, and the confirmation was sent to me via email. At least 2 weeks notice needs to be given, to allow them time to contact and source an available interpreter. The experience was awesome!!! Our group consisted of 4 adults and 6 children. 1 adult and 3 children aged 4-6 benefitted from having interpreters present. We had a team of two interpreters working with us. We were also provided with a Vancouver Aquarium volunteer who served as a guide. He toured us around the facility and provided facts and thorough explanations of the exhibits and galleries. He knew beforehand which shows we had wanted to attend, and he would head over there prior to our group to save us seating that would provide the best visual access. I was amazed and very grateful for how accommodating the Vancouver Aquarium was for our visit. These services come included with the price of admission. Some tips to make the most out of the experience are:
- Call as far ahead in advance as possible to allow ample time for arrangements to be made.
- Be flexible with the dates, and try and provide a back up date, just in case there are no available interpreters.
- Try to plan your visit as best as you can. Let the staff know which shows you plan to visit. Use the schedule provided as a guide. The interpreters are available for 3 hours.
- The aquarium has a 4D theatre attraction which showcases different documentaries. Let the staff know if you would like for this to be a part of your experience. It is dark inside the theatre, but flashlights are available in order to see the interpreters, or, a script can also be provided beforehand in order to be familiar with the upcoming film.
- Be aware that there is an accessibility discount on admission. Be sure to ask about this upon purchasing tickets at the entrance.
For more information on the Vancouver Aquarium, visit http://www.vanaqua.org To inquire about or book and accessible tour, call Visitor Experience at 604-659-3565 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Summer vacation means two months of children stuck at home or in childcare all week… Unless they are registered for Summer Programs with Deaf Youth Today (DYT), which is a Summer Program managed by FNDC! Throughout the Summer, programs that accommodate Deaf/Hoh children and youth ranging in age from 5-16 took place on a weekly basis. Some programs were also available to hearing siblings and Children of Deaf Adults (CODA) who use Sign Language. Voice interpreters were available upon request. Some examples of the programs available include:
- Just Being a Kid Week: This program was for Deaf/Hoh children aged 5-11 and was a fun-filled week of arts and crafts, trips to the pool/park, and field trips.
- Guy Time: A program for Deaf/Hoh males aged 12-16 with outdoor and team building activities with the guidance of positive role models.
- Summer Immersion Week: This was a week available to both parents and children. There was a separate program for adults comprising of workshops, while the children continue to have a fun and busy week of field trips and activities.
The rates to participate in these activities are extremely affordable, as they are highly subsidized. The child to staff ratio was low, ensuring safety and adequate attention for each child who attends. Counsellors also undergo thorough training prior to the programs starting. Children who participate in DYT programs are guaranteed to have an enjoyable Summer break! It was very apparent that the staff hold a high level of commitment to fostering both language and social development among those who are involved. Registering your children early is highly recommended, as program spaces do fill up quickly. To learn more about FNDC and DYT, visit http://www.fndc.ca
The last few months have been such a whirlwind of activity and fun! Teanna continues to gain newfound knowledge of the world around her, and I have had eye-opening realizations that there are plenty of opportunities available for the both of us to learn and grow. I have visions of Teanna attending concerts or plays with her social circle in the future, never missing a beat in the dance of life. I am hoping when that time comes, I will still be cool enough to make the cut to come with her. Perhaps one day, she may decide to become a DYT camp counsellor, and be a positive role model to Deaf children, inspiring them, just like how the current DYT staff inspires her. It is helpful to me to know about what resources are and will be available to her, and what I can continue to keep advocating for in order to ensure that the future is able to accommodate her. I feel that as we explore these together, it will also contribute to her knowledge of what is available to her, and add on to her budding confidence to advocate for herself.
I am positive there are events and resources that are similar to the local ones I have mentioned here, which are just a small fraction of everything else taking place around here. I learned about all of these through the various networks I am continuously building around myself, and through my involvement in the community – whether it is through various organizations and early intervention agencies, or online on message boards and social media. There is so much available out there, so go ahead and reach out!