Planning a Festival? Tips to Provide a Deaf-Friendly Experience

Posted by: Staff Writer on Aug. 11, 2015

It’s summer! There are music and theater festivals happening everyday, all day, all over the country. Have you received a request to accommodate a Deaf theater or concertgoer whom uses American Sign Language (ASL)? Making sure your event is accessible to them not only improves your customer service, it also fulfills your obligation under the civil rights law, Americans with Disability Act (ADA). If you are unsure how to provide a deaf-friendly experience at your festival for Deaf ASL users, here are some useful tips to get you started.

Get the Community Involved

If your festival has multiple co-occurring stages, acts, and sets and you want to provide ASL interpreters for only the most desired sets, consider sending out a survey to the community, asking them to rank their preferred sets.

Ask Deaf concert and theater attendees who their preferred interpreters are. They may prefer the interpreter who did the concert the last year, or the interpreter who is a huge Macklemore fan and knows all his songs, or the interpreter who has been interpreting Shakespeare for years, to do Macbeth.

Find out who the designated performance interpreters are in your community, especially those known for doing high quality work; seek out multiple opinions and gravitate towards those names that pop up again and again.

Screening & Application Process

For very large festivals, where multiple interpreters are needed, consider having a formal and early application and screening process that requires a resume, and a video entry in that music or theater genre to be screened by a committee of professional performance interpreters and Deaf community members.


Performance interpreting is a niche profession with a limited pool of talent. Expand your recruitment beyond the local level and consider hiring interpreters from other states, especially those well-known for providing high quality theater and concert access for their local Deaf community.


Recruit and hire early, months if not a year ahead of time. The best performance interpreters are booked out many months in advance and are selective about what they will do. It is not uncommon for them to be booked a year in advance and some will only do 1-2 shows per month, further limiting their availability.

Expect that you will pay for not just their time interpreting, but their prep time as well, which can include off-site preparation and on-site preparation. They will need time to prepare. Dozens of hours go into getting ready for a show or concert. Get the set list or script ahead of time, two months at least to ensure high quality interpretation. The day of, arrange for interpreters access to the performers before the performance if possible so they can ask questions about the set and prepare for any unexpected surprises. 

For Deaf Patrons

Consider having the song list or lyrics printed ahead of time for those who might prefer to read before hand or read-along.

Arrange for adequate lighting and visibility and work closely with the interpreter and lighting techs to make sure lighting will stay on throughout the show.

Set up Deaf seating area as close to the stages as possible with direct lines of sight, and no obstruction, away from the dance areas or mosh pits.


Get the word out to the local Deaf community through social media, email, and old-fashioned fliers at local Deaf agencies and centers. Let them know your festival is accessible and ASL interpreted. Make sure to include a way for them to contact you.


Engage the ongoing feedback of the community and festival attendees. You can do this through online and in person surveys and by invite others to meetings and be a part of the recruitment and screening process. By having the Deaf community involved every step of the way, you will avoid common pitfalls and problems, like hiring unqualified interpreters or hiring too late to allow for adequate prep, and in-turn have a better deaf-friendly outcome.

It’s a Wrap

These are just some of the ideas we have, and there are countless more out there. However you create a deaf-friendly festival make sure to keep Deaf patrons front and center, because they are the best people to tell you what their access needs are.


                    Together, we can create a deaf-friendly world!



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