Symposium on Social Communication

In 2001 Anne Clark lectured in Spanish and English at an international symposium in Cuba on social communication. The symposium was put on by scientific organizations and universities from Cuba, Italy, Holland, Germany, and Spain. They had been trying for over 2 years to get Anne to come to their symposium.

Her lecture won 2nd place. She has twice been published in their scientific journal and while there met many Cubans who had intensively studied her previous writings. One woman wrote her Masters thesis on Anne’s paper: "Music and the Arts, Accessible to All."

While there she learned Cuban signs, both from deaf Cuban friends and from an amazing computerized language program created by the Center of Applied Linguistics in Santiago de Cuba.

Summary Of Her Lecture:

Music and the Art, Accessible to All

"What matters deafness of the ear, when the mind hears. The one true deafness, the incurable deafness, is that of the mind." Victor Hugo, 1845.

I bring music to a silent world. I am a sign language interpreter for musical events. When I interpret music, I see the power it has, the effect on all peoples lives (deaf and hearing). Music and performance affect peoples lives in a profound way: to see the excitement of a deaf person discovering music; or the pleasure of those who thought they would never experience music again; even restoring the will to live for one who had a sudden, severe hearing loss. Everyone, including those with disabilities, should have the same opportunity for access and participation in the arts. Music, art, and the humanities are uplifting, powerful, and transcendent expressions of the human experience. They are some of the purest expressions of a culture helping to define and unite people. When music or art is taken into other societies or cultures, it can be shared and appreciated. It is one of the ways we can discover one another. These cultural expressions are a means by which we can all grow and evolve.

When we share the best aspects of our culture, and others share with us, we all benefit. We find those things that connect us, as well as those things that are special, unique, and different. It gives us an opportunity to celebrate our diversity as humans as well as our similarities. We need to do this for the advancement of all people on this planet.

Every person has a special talent, a gift that needs to be developed and expressed. The same is true for cultures and countries. Our lives become richer as groups and individuals when we find ways to reach and express our full potential. These things must be shared throughout the whole society for cohesion of the group, as well as for inspiration. If we are to be inclusive we must include those with disabilities. The Census Bureau defines disability in this way: "A person is considered to have a disability if he or she has difficulty performing certain functions (seeing, hearing, talking, walking, climbing stairs and lifting and carrying), or has difficulty performing activities of daily living, or has difficulty with certain social roles (doing school work for children, working at a job and around the house for adults). A person who is unable to perform one or more activities, or who uses an assistive device to get around, or who needs assistance from another person to perform basic activities is considered to have a severe disability."

In countries where medical services are easily accessible approximately 20% of the population have a disability. In countries where medical services are not readily available (because of poverty, isolation, war, etc.) those figures can be much higher. Worldwide this translates to more than half a billion persons with disabilities and more than 300 million people who are severely or moderately disabled. The necessity and importance of making the arts accessible to everyone is obvious. That joy and sense of wonder we experience at music or art events is naturally something we would want to share with everyone. For those with disabilities, access to an art event may not improve the quality of their lives -- but then again it may. Violinist Itzhak Perlman, who had polio, insists that those with disabilities deserve an accessible environment “because we are part of society and society is incomplete without us..." Shouldn’t we do everything in our power to ease the suffering of others, to help everyone feel a part of society and able to make their contribution?

The National Council on the Arts (USA) in 1973 said, "... The arts are a right, not a privilege ... No citizen should be deprived of the beauty and insights into the human experience that only the arts can impart." Some accessibility solutions in overcoming barriers at plays or musical events for people with disabilities include: an interpreter for those who are deaf or hearing impaired; ramps, wide aisles, and accessible handicapped parking for those with mobility problems (in wheelchairs, using canes, etc.); headphones with commentary for those who are blind. There aren’t always easy solutions to providing access, but the benefits in terms of quality of life more than compensate for the effort. Assistance with solutions is readily available. There are organizations in many countries that will help assess and overcome barriers to bringing the arts to people with disabilities. Organizations such as Very Special Arts, are set up to facilitate access and participation for those with disabilities. VSA believes that the arts play a vital role in the lives of all people.

They feel the arts give us a universal language through which we enhance education, communicate experiences and unite diverse cultures. Their programs are implemented in more than 90 countries worldwide. My field of expertise in disability access is as a sign language interpreter. My specialty is "signing" for music. Because more than 10% of the population has a hearing impairment, they constitute the largest group with disabilities. When there is an interpreter at a music event, those who can’t hear will still know what is being said or sung. It is my hope when I interpret for a music performance that a deaf or hearing-impaired person gets much more than just the words. My desire is for them to be able to perceive all aspects of the music. In addition to the rhythm and emotion of the music, I attempt to share my experience of how the music makes me feel -- the excitement, passion, longing, hope, exhilaration, joy or sorrow; the rhapsody of everything music is.

I am often asked why a deaf person would go to a music event. Deaf people have as great a need for entertainment as anyone else. Music events offer rich sources of entertainment for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. A musical performance touches the heart and moves the soul. For many people, attending musical events has always been a big part of their cultural and social lives. People who experience a partial or severe hearing loss later in life may not wish -- or need -- to lose the social, cultural, and artistic benefits of such events. Performance interpretation not only makes music events accessible to those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. It also weaves together lyric imagery, emotion, and rhythm in a way that uniquely touches the minds and hearts of the audience. Plus it heightens the experience for most of the audience. Even those with normal hearing can become more deeply involved in the music. Everyone seems to experience the music in a more powerful and emotionally-charged way.

At the concerts I interpret, we have the full range of people with hearing impairments in attendance; from those who can hear the music, but can’t make out the words, to those who are profoundly deaf and can hear nothing (people with a total hearing loss can still enjoy the visual dimensions of a performance and delight in the experience of “feeling” the music -- for example, the vibrations of instruments whose notes fall at the bottom end of the musical scale such as bass or drums). I simply try to fill in the rest. Perhaps most importantly, with the assistance of an interpreter, people with hearing impairments can have access to a creative world of poetic imagery. There is also the benefit of disability awareness. Those who are able to hear are reminded of that fact and that there are some in the audience who don’t have that ability, who have never heard music. This helps those with hearing to appreciate their gift and, hopefully, to inspire in them the desire to bring the delight of music to all. Music is the language of love. It reaches across all boundaries. Borders dissolve. It connects people. All those things that can artificially separate us from each other -- physical abilities; nationality; politics; cultural differences; etc. -- become less important as the pure joy of music touches each of our hearts. What becomes important are the things that connect us, not what separates and isolates us. Resources

Very Special Arts, International Headquarters 1300 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 700 Washington D.C. 20036 USA Phone 202-628-2800 FAX 202-737-0725 Contact for regional and country offices.

the cuba picture is El Castillo del Morro with Granma Island - Annie Clark photo Feb 2001
Back to Annie's Home