It's not intuitive, but being deaf or hard of hearing doesn't prevent you from enjoying music. In Austin, home of the well-regarded Texas School for the Deaf, that fact is on full display at the Austin City Limits Music Festival. A staff of 30 people designated to assist deaf and hard of hearing people provide interpreters for dozens of shows.
Interpreters take their craft seriously. Once they know which musicians they will be interpreting for, they spend hours pouring over set lists, trying to predict the songs they must perform. Each song must be memorized and rehearsed. Sometimes lyrics include slang and idioms not readily translatable; interpreters must come up with a way to put these words into sign. Once they've mastered the songs of one artist, they repeat the process for multiple bands. The idea is to provide deaf people with the complete music festival experience.
That's what moves me. That's what gets my heart racing, is when the deaf people are truly having an equal experience.
Some interpreters like Joann Benfield are deaf themselves. Chance the Rapper's, personal interpreter, Matt Maxie, is also hard of hearing.
For deaf patrons, attending a music festival is exhilarating, and no less rewarding than for those who can hear. Deaf people appreciate the lyrics of a song, the energy of the crowd, and can often feel pounding bass beats. Add an interpreter and you have the full experience. "With the interpreter in place, after I've learned and listened to the music, the interpreters are really good at filling in, and making me have full access," said one deaf festival goer. Austin City Limits runs two weekends, October 6-8th and October 12-15th.
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