CityFolk 2019: ASL Interpretation Success!

Written by: Kathleen Henderson, ASL/English Interpreter and organizer of ASL Interpretation at CityFolk 2019

This year, in partnership with the CityFolk Festival organizers, and along with Jo-Anne Bryan, I provided American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreters for the Dwayne Gretzky band performance. And It was a success! 

Congratulations to the Diversity & Inclusion Committee and CityFolk! 

Thank you to the Dwayne Gretzky Band for partaking in this initiative to make music festivals more inclusive for all. 



For the past 16 years, I have worked as a community ASL/English Interpreter in Ottawa. I have been interpreting in the arts scene since 2009, and at various shows at the National Arts Centre (NAC), as well as interpreting for Deaf actors. I have also volunteered to interpret with local theatre and arts organizations like the Orpheus Musical Theatre Society and (non-profit Deaf lead arts organization). 

I wholeheartedly believe that partnering with ASL advisors (Deaf experts) to provide access to the Deaf community is crucial. So, to support me in organizing ASL interpreters at CityFolk this year in partnership with the festival organizers, I teamed up with Jo-Anne Bryan. We both share the same mission to make festivals, theatre and arts accessible for the Deaf community. This way everyone can enjoy what Ottawa has to offer.

Jo-Anne Bryan has over ten years of experience working with communities in Toronto, she lobbies for people with disabilities and Deaf people to have access to services that meet their needs. She has been working with agencies/services to ensure that their websites are accessible via ASL Videos. As long as she can remember, she has enjoyed illustrating artworks and has now begun to transfer her stories and artworks to pattern designs. She is an artist in her heart and soul. She is currently an ASL consultant/Deaf interpreter to Deaf theatre actors/interpreters at the NAC, Great Canadian Theatre Company and Meridian Theatre at CenterPoint in Ottawa. She also provided ASL consulting with Deaf/ Hearing actors at Geordie Theatre in Montreal.

Why Have Inclusion at Music Festivals?

“It is necessary to have inclusion and accessibility for all to enjoy local musicians. The same as everyone else – young, queer, older, parents, tourist, people with a disability and teacher. It is about Deaf people attending the event; it is about enjoying music in the audience with other people.” Jo-Anne Bryan

“The one argument for accessibility that doesn’t get made nearly often enough is how extraordinarily better it makes some people’s lives. How many opportunities do we have to dramatically improve people’s lives just by doing our job a little better?” – Steve Krug, Information Architect and Author of “Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability”

There are a few organizations that have included ASL in the entertainment community. The National Arts Centre (NAC)’s provides interpreters for several shows throughout the year at a reduced rate for the Deaf community. Recently the Great Canadian Theatre Company has started to provide interpreters as well. Also for the past 3 years, interpreters have volunteered to interpret on the dress rehearsal nights for Orpheus Musical Theatre in exchange for the Deaf community to see the show for free. 

Since the new Federal Law Bill C-81 passed recognizing ASL (American Sign Language), LSQ (Lange Sign de Quebec), and ISL (Indigenous Sign Language) as a primary language of the Deaf people in Canada, more organizations are starting to make events accessible to the Deaf community.

Bringing ASL Interpretation to CityFolk 2019

The Interpreters we worked with had 3 weeks to prepare for the 2019 CityFolk Festival. This includes reviewing the lyrics of the songs, memorizing them and preparing the ASL equivalent to match the beat of the songs that would be performed by the Dwayne Gretzky band. 

Normally, having rehearsals a month in advance of the show is the best practice approach, however we made it happen in less than a month. Hats off to the interpreters, Carmelle Cachero and Catherine Maier! The show was a success! 

There were 14 Deaf individuals that requested tickets, and 10 of those people attended the show. Considering Deaf individuals have never been able to have access to a show at CityFolk, this attendance was incredible! Since, the Deaf community is new to these types of events, it usually takes many years for attendance to become this size. 

During the show, balloons were provided to the Deaf audience so that they were able to feel the vibrations of the music. It was a marvelous sight to watch the excitement appear on their faces through the 2-hour performance. It was evident that the Deaf community who attended enjoyed the event. 

So, once again, truly I am inspired by the good work that is now been put forth by the Diversity and Inclusion Committee of both Bluesfest & CityFolk, as well as all those who made this accomplishment possible!

Here are some direct quotes from some of the Deaf individuals that attended the show

“Good job Carmelle Cachero and Catherine Maier. Ottawa, please consider more accessible events, I feel included tonight as a deaf person!” Yannick 

“Thank you! Thank you! I tremendously enjoyed it last night. I knew several songs. So, good to be there especially with two fabulous interpreters. I feel very involved. Much Appreciated.” Lois

“Thank you for coordinating this, we need more accessible event like that and they played two of my favorite songs tonight too. I am so lucky!” Yannick

“I enjoyed my time! I will also go to the Bluesfest if they have interpreters!” David