Sign Language is not Performance Art

The exoticism of signed language interpreters and signed language gets uptake in mainstream media, but deaf people’s views are ignored. Here’s one response to this phenomenon, written by my colleague, Dr. Caroline Solomon, a deaf professor of biology and her brother, Jeffrey Archer Miller, a hearing lawyer who regularly represents deaf people.

The subtle subtext of the media’s approach has been to introduce its readers to American Sign Language as an oddity, more in the vein of a story about Cirque du Soleil than as a window into a sophisticated means of interpersonal expression. Wall Street Journal reporter Elizabeth Williamson delights in describing how Mr. Painter interprets “fiscal cliff” and “kick the can down the road” from English to American Sign Language. Would its readers be equally interested in a story about an interpreter translating arcane Washington bureaucratese into Spanish? We suspect not.