Guest Post from Pro Bono ASL: Art, Culture, Accessibility, and Accountability

June 29, 2021

We are honored to share a guest post from Pro Bono ASL, who the Guild has been working with to provide ASL interpretation for our virtual programming since fall 2020. We encourage you to reflect on the questions and calls to action shared below, and we are continuing to do so ourselves.



Stop for a moment, and reflect. How much do you know about Deaf Arts? The Deaf community is a vibrant one, with a language and culture all their own. Deaf people occupy all roles in society, just as hearing people do, including the roles of Artists and Educators. Who are these Deaf community members? What is their inspiration?  How does being a part of such an oft overlooked subculture of America impact their artistic expression? How do BIPOC Deaf artists navigate through layers of audism and racism? What might we learn from their experiences?  Excluding the lives and perspectives of an entire section of our community, means that we cannot enjoy the lessons they have to teach us.  

The resurgence of social liberation movements after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and multiple other precious Black lives has been a long awaited wake-up call for Educators within Cultural and Artistic spaces. The call: Accountability, and the abolition of Neutrality within the Arts. We should all be made aware that Arts and Culture would not exist without the beautifully expansive minds of Black creatives. BLM was plastered on the sides of Museums, Theatres, and Institutions; Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity statements were written; the Arts flooded timelines and headlines with support for Black Lives. However, to a large part of the Black community, this activism was, ironically, performative. 

In the same vein, Deaf and Disabled community members have historically been excluded, forgotten, and disenfranchised from Arts and Cultural organizations. Furthermore, activism under the guise of inclusivity, remains performative. The lapse in accessible thinking when cultivating shared creative spaces is a systemic issue that continues to bar Deaf and Disabled visionaries from participating creatively and generously synthesizing their lived experiences. Accountability must be taken, and reparations given. In order for Educators in creative spaces to be fully inclusive in their craft, access must be made a priority, not an afterthought. Without access for ALL, the excellence of Arts and Culture will continue to fall flat.

Last fall, National Guild reached out to Pro Bono ASL, in an effort to take accountability and pay reparations. As a bit of background, Pro Bono ASL is comprised of hearing ASL interpreters using our hearing privilege to provide language justice for the Deaf community. Our work includes interpreting for the ASL-deficient hearing community, and shining the spotlight on Deaf individuals and organizations that have historically been overlooked or passed up due to audism, ableism and linguicism. We take our role as allies and accomplices seriously, holding doors that have been opened for us ajar, for Deaf people to walk through, instead. For example, when offered the opportunity to present during the Guild’s Rootwork Session, Pro Bono ASL immediately accepted the offer, and extended that platform to Deaf illustrator Awet Moges, filmmaker Jade Bryan and dancer/choreographer Tanisha Russell, all members of the Black Deaf community.

When we demand institutional recognition for Black Lives, we mean ALL Black Lives; Black Queer peoples, Black Elders, Black Deaf and Disabled folks, and all intersections within. Without providing access to artistic and cultural curriculum, programming, thinking, and performances, stories are erased, and opportunities for expansive collaboration missed.

We look forward to sharing more with you, next time, directly from Deaf artists, as they discuss access, education, inclusion and the Deaf Artist Experience.


Pro Bono ASL logo. The American Sign Language signs for "Volunteer", "Connect", and "Interpret", over the flag colors for Deaf awareness, the LGBTQIA+ community flag, and the Pan-African flag.


Stay tuned for the piece mentioned above, featuring stories directly from Deaf artists, in the next issue of GuildNotes!

Published: June 29, 2021