Inclusivity for the Sake of It

In the wake of recent events surrounding the Super Bowl halftime show, a spotlight has been cast on an issue of paramount importance to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, as well as to organizations like HASA that advocate for their rights and inclusion. The choice of interpreter for Usher’s Super Bowl Halftime Show has ignited a firestorm of criticism and disappointment, leading to the viral spread of the hashtag #DoBetter on platforms such as X (formerly Twitter) and TikTok. This controversy underscores a broader, troubling trend among large companies and corporations to superficially embrace inclusivity without ensuring the necessary competence and credentials in their efforts.

The Core of the Controversy

The crux of the dissatisfaction lies not merely in the selection of an interpreter who was ill-prepared for the magnitude and specificity of the task at hand but in what this selection represents: a checkbox approach to inclusivity. The interpreter, tasked with conveying the energy, lyrics, and nuances of Usher’s performance to the deaf and hard-of-hearing audience, was criticized for not possessing the appropriate skill set required for such a high-profile event. This incident is not isolated but indicative of a larger pattern where the appearance of inclusivity is prioritized over genuine, effective communication and representation.

Beyond Checking Boxes: The Importance of Qualified Interpreters

The role of an interpreter, especially in settings as dynamic and culturally significant as the Super Bowl halftime show, extends beyond mere translation. It involves conveying the essence of the performance, the emotions of the artist, and the atmosphere of the event. This requires not only a deep understanding of sign language but also an appreciation of music, culture, and the specific needs of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. The selection of interpreters who lack these qualifications undermines the very goal of inclusivity, rendering it a hollow gesture.


The Ripple Effect of Inadequate Representation

When the deaf and hard-of-hearing community is provided with inadequate access to cultural events, it sends a disheartening message about their value and inclusion in society. It’s not just about missing out on entertainment; it’s about being sidelined in shared cultural moments, reinforcing feelings of isolation and marginalization. Moreover, such oversights contribute to the perpetuation of stereotypes about what deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals can or cannot enjoy or participate in, further entrenching societal barriers.

HASA’s Call to Action: #DoBetter

HASA stands with the deaf and hard-of-hearing community in demanding more than just superficial inclusivity. #DoBetter is not just a hashtag; it’s a call to action for all organizations and companies to reevaluate their approach to inclusivity, ensuring that it is meaningful and effective. This involves:

  • Vetting and Hiring Qualified Interpreters: Organizations must prioritize the hiring of interpreters who are not only certified but also have proven experience and sensitivity to the content they are interpreting.
  • Community Consultation: Engaging with the deaf and hard-of-hearing community to understand their needs and preferences is crucial in selecting interpreters and designing accessible experiences.
  • Ongoing Education and Training: Encouraging and facilitating continuous education for interpreters in cultural competency, performance interpretation, and other specialized areas to enhance their skills.
  • Public Accountability: When missteps occur, it’s important for organizations to publicly acknowledge them, learn from the feedback, and implement changes to prevent future occurrences.

Moving Forward with Authentic Inclusion

The reaction to the Super Bowl interpreter situation highlights a critical need for a shift from performative inclusivity to genuine, impactful actions. HASA is committed to advocating for this change, working alongside the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, and calling on all entities to adopt a more thoughtful, informed, and community-engaged approach to inclusivity.

Inclusivity should not be merely a box to check off but a commitment to understanding, respecting, and addressing the diverse needs of all community members. As we move forward, let the conversation sparked by this event not fade into the background but serve as a catalyst for real, lasting change in how we approach inclusivity and representation. Together, we can and must #DoBetter.


by Dave Coyne

Learn More About HASA

HASA connects people to their worlds and aids individuals in their ability to understand and to be understood. HASA has grown into an organization that serves more than 4,000 children and adults every year, helping them communicate more effectively. With programming both on our Baltimore campus and through community-based programming, we provide education, access, and medical support to anyone who needs it.

We envision a society where everyone can understand and be understood and where everyone is treated with integrity, compassion, and equity. Join us