I write to you as the hearing mother to my 4-year-old daughter Sarah who is Deaf. On Sunday evening my daughter, her father and grandparents were getting ready to watch the National Anthem prior to the Super Bowl. Why was she watching? Because last Tuesday the website for the National Association for the Deaf explained that Marlee Matlin would be performing the National Anthem in American Sign Language along with Lady Gaga. Here is the link to that announcement – https://nad.org/news/2016/2/nad-nfl-pepsico-and-cbs-announce-marlee-matlin-perform-asl-super-bowl-50. I do not have the statistics regarding how many people who are Deaf and hard-of-hearing were watching the Super Bowl on Sunday night. However, according to a Gallaudet University website, “Across all age groups approximately 600,000 people in the United States (0.22% of the population, or 2.2 per 1,000) are “deaf.”
We can assume with good reason that a great many people who are Deaf and use American Sign Language in order to fully access communication were watching the game and anticipated seeing Marlee Matlin’s performance. I watched it, and by my calculations she was on the screen for not longer than 2 seconds. This is unacceptable.
CBS has a civic responsibility to provide equal access to communication for all people. I know that the interpretation was on the Jumbotron during the entire performance but what about broadcast television? Surely, additional cameras could have been utilized to guarantee equal access to communication.
I have some confusion regarding why this situation has occurred in the first place. Yes, Lady Gaga is an international celebrity. People want to see her sing. I myself enjoy her performances. However, Marlee Matlin is also a very well-known celebrity and an Academy Award winning actor. She currently stars in the acclaimed television program ‘Switched at Birth’ and she recently starred in ‘Spring Awakenings’ on Broadway. Deaf and hearing people alike should have been given the opportunity to see her ASL interpretation during the Super Bowl.
I think our largely hearing society forgets or just does not realize that for smart, capable, educated people (like all of the Deaf people who I have met, been educated by and befriended since my daughter was born in March of 2011) American Sign Language is not just something that would be nice to see if it’s possible. It’s like spoken English for people who are hearing. It is purely and simply necessary in order for a full access to communication to take place.
CBS: you had an immense opportunity during the Super Bowl–an event with far reaching magnitude–to show my daughter and so many other children and adults who are Deaf that society recognizes them. All the cameras needed to do was shine their lights on both the singer who was performing in English and on the performer who was using ASL in a poetic and equally beautiful performance.
I hope that CBS can do better in the future. I hope that my daughter can begin to see more of herself in society. I believe that change and growth is possible and I hope that in the future we can bring that to fruition. I will be submitting this piece to other organizations in hopes of continuing a conversation that greatly needs a voice.
Sharon Lynn Clark
Mother, Teacher, Writer