Deaf community upset over Seattle Men's Chorus interpreter

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by JOHN LANGELER / KING 5 News

khou.com

Posted on December 20, 2013 at 11:12 AM

SEATTLE -- A group of concerned citizens is asking the Seattle Men's Chorus to re-evaluate its long-time sign language interpreter because his signs are too hard to understand, and suggest it's been a problem "for years".

"For a long time, deaf people have had difficult experiences with interpreters, but they haven't told anyone," said Katie Roberts, who is deaf and communicated through an interpreter.

Kevin Gallagher has handled sign language for the chorus since 1989, and said there have only been a few complaints, despite what Roberts claims.

"The folks who have attended the concerts have told the chorus they have been understanding it," Gallagher said Thursday.

Gallagher and Roberts both point out that sign language for communication and for the arts require two different skill sets.

Gallagher, who is a qualified (but not certified) interpreter was trained in a variety of places, including the Juilliard School.

"I get the message that people are dissatisfied with this performance as it stands," said Gallagher, "Some people are dissatisfied.  Others have attended and gotten it."

Seattle Men's Chorus Executive Director Frank Stilwagner said he is willing to speak with those concerned, and make any necessary changes.

"All (the letter writers) had to do was come to me and ask," he said, "Nobody has."

Stilwagner said in his seven years, there has only been one complaint regarding Gallagher.  Roberts disagreed, and said even after a recent one-on-one meeting with administration, the chorus refused to consider making a change.

"Yes, they are producing very beautiful signs in artistic ways," said Roberts, "But if the deaf audience can't understand, then you're not providing access and not doing your job."

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