The Carter Blog
American Sign Language for interpreting American art
Sep 27, 2023
With the Museum’s commitment to accessibility and inclusivity, the Carter launched an initiative in 2021 with a new community partner, the Tarrant County College’s (TCC) American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation program. That summer we became an official clinical site for TCC ASL students, meaning students who need to complete their hundreds of signing hours before certification could do so at our Museum. This also made us the first (and still the only) museum in Fort Worth to have this credential.
Our partnership with TCC continues to be an exciting one for both parties involved. While typical areas for ASL interpretation include churches, schools, legal offices, and medical facilities, Sammie Shepard, Sign Language Interpreting Program Director at TCC, and Maureen Denner, Interpreting Program Practicum Coordinator and Instructor at TCC, have explained that it’s really cool to have the Carter as a site. “Students have the opportunity to sign concepts and vocabulary in settings that aren’t typically offered at other agencies,” says Denner. For example, we could be talking Indigenous ceremonial dress one minute and switch gears to talk about photographic printing processes the next. The Carter also has a wide range of audiences, not just school children or adults, so this allows interpreters to beef up on vocabulary for all levels of communication.
We offer ASL interpretation for every event the Museum hosts. Programs like public lectures, exhibition openings, and press previews automatically have an interpreter assigned. Other events, like family, public, and access programs or members’ gatherings, will ask online registrants to indicate if they need ASL interpretation for the event. If so, the Museum will set up an interpreter to present—free of charge—to the attendees. We bring interpreters in for school groups when needed and have utilized interpreters for Deaf researchers meeting with curators via Zoom.
While we aim to provide this service when needed, we do close the request window 48 hours before the day of the event, as we can’t promise the availability of interpreters. When TCC students are unavailable, we hire local interpreters from either Hired Hands, Inc. or Deaf Action Center.
The Deaf audience has been a slower one to build, but we’ve been getting positive feedback. In fact, a recent survey of walk-in visitors found that 15 percent of people identified as having special needs, the highest it’s ever been, suggesting special needs audience growth is a result from increased access and universal design inclusions. We’ve received participant requests ahead of time and often have hearing visitors come for a lecture, notice there is an interpreter, are thrilled to know that this service exists, and will share with someone who could benefit. Word of mouth (or the power of sign) has been a wonderful way to help spread this offering. ASL interpretation is only one of the many ways that the Museum makes American art accessible to everyone.