Author:Kelly Fagan Robinson (University of Cambridge)
Paper short abstract:
Sign-interpreted pop & sign-song choirs have received international online attention. But as one interlocutor put it, deaf people still "can't even get [sign] interpreters for a job interview." This paper mobilises deaf perspectives to navigate debates around austerity, music & what 'access' means.
Paper long abstract:
Interpreted versions of pop songs, sign-song choirs, and other so-called 'deaf accessible' music have become increasingly popular on social media and in the press. Meanwhile cuts to UK arts and equalities budgets have led to fewer accessible training and employment opportunities for UK deaf artists. Despite 'sign-led work' still being funded, interlocutors believe that the art that gets made is "missing the entire point of sign language and the role it plays for deaf people" and is more reflective of hearing perceptions of what access means, rather than what deaf people want and require. Interpretation and captioning are preferred by some, but for other deaf sign-language-users experiential inclusion in musical events, being able to use visual-tactile dominance as part of a cross-sensory engagement (for instance making music experience-able via vibrations), is preferred.
This paper contends with 'deaf access' as definitions emerge through songs and music. Concepts of access (as understood by hearing persons) versus ACCESS and INCLUSION (as understood by deaf signing persons) are unpacked using case studies of sign-mangling Amy Winehouse impersonators; one deaf schoolboy's mandated (and resisted) participation in a sign-song choir; and a music organisation's commitment to interpretation on-stage because "it reminds hearing people that deaf people need access."
Ultimately different ways that deaf people engage with pop is used as a way of understanding divergences between access and ACCESS in arenas beyond songs, such as in administration of welfare support. This paper uses ethnographic data to highlight why one person's Winehouse becomes another's epistemic injustice.
Knowing by singing: song, acoustic ecologies and the overflow of meaning