Why Can’t the Girl Scouts Provide Sign Language and Captioning?

As a person with hearing loss and a former Girl Scout, a recent story in the Chicago Tribune about a 12-year-old girl who is Deaf being denied sign language interpretation is disheartening. Her troop paid for an interpreter, then apparently was unable to continue doing so and disbanded. Now, the young girl’s parents are suing the troop. This is 2012, not 1982. Why should anyone have to sue to get a sign interpreter?

Sadly, litigation is the bold step that’s often needed to ensure accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing, as well as everyone with unique physical challenges. Remember the lawsuit against Cinemark Theaters and its lack of captioned movie showings? Since then, the theater chain nationwide offers captioned movies. How about the lawsuits against CNN.com failing to provide captioned content? I blogged extensively about CNN a few months ago, and yet the news organization’s website still lacks captioned video clips.

My hope is that all Girl Scout troops will see this young girl’s case as a precedent in providing accessibility, not only for those of us with hearing loss, but other girls with unique challenges.

I recently wrote about Girl Scouts Founder Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low on my blog. She had a significant hearing loss, and her founding of the Girl Scouts of America is nothing short of inspiring. Without the use of sign language interpreters, hearing aid amplication, or captioning in her day, Daisy did her very best to spread the word about this organization.

The girl in the lawsuit case deserves a chance to continue in scouting and should have every accomodation available to her, including a sign interpeter, live captioning, or both. Let’s hope that her Girl Scout troop and the national office will work together to pay for the interpreting before the lawsuit goes further.

How about selling a few extra boxes of cookies each year?


28 thoughts on “Why Can’t the Girl Scouts Provide Sign Language and Captioning?

  1. I am deaf and I am a former GS Leader. I used to be so proud of the Girl Scouts. They were all about diversity awareness and inclusion. This is so disappointing. I understand the expense of having to provide an interpreter and the hardships on non-profits who rely mostly on fundraisers and donations. I know Girl Scouts has been close to closing down camps in my area because of lack of funds. Still, it I am saddened that a deaf child will no longer get a chance to be part of this fine organization because she will not have access. I can see both sides. My heart is breaking.

    • If I read the article right, the parents were using the girl scouts to provide her with socialization with peers since they have six kids and were a one income family and didn’t have the money to pay for terps themselves. I’m not sure, from the article, that they were so entranced with the GS program, it was more about providing a social group for their child. I’m wondering why, after all those years, her “friends” at the GS haven’t learned sign. Don’t they have ASL badges or something?

  2. Another example where a video interpreting service would work effectively. It’s free, widely available on both the Internet and through a closed circuit television system. This would eliminate the expense to G.S.A., and serve the needs of the Deaf members. I recently did an interview on DeafInPrison.com with a young woman. The interview lasted 2 nights, for 1 hour each night. It was done via telephone through a video interpreting service. It worked beautifully, and allowed a Hearie like me an opportunity to carry on a rich and insightful conversation with a Deaf person.

    P.S. Great work Shanna. Reblogging. 🙂

  3. Reblogged this on deafinprison and commented:
    Another example where a video interpreting service would work effectively. It’s free, widely available on both the Internet and through a closed circuit television system. This would eliminate the expense to G.S.A., and serve the needs of the Deaf members. I recently did an interview on DeafInPrison.com with a young woman. The interview lasted 2 nights, for 1 hour each night. It was done via telephone through a video interpreting service. It worked beautifully, and allowed a Hearie like me an opportunity to carry on a rich and insightful conversation with a Deaf person.

  4. Would love to know how to access the free video interpreting please. It would make a great resource for many.

    • Before we get too carried away about free video interpreting, it is provided in order to give the Deaf a phone service. Contact the Commission for Deaf and Hard of Hearing in your state. There is also a service called Captel which provides captioned conversations. There are a number of providers for those who sign, not so many for those who need captioning because they do not sign.

  5. If it was the troop itself paying for interpreters I can understand how they ran out of money. In Massachusetts the charge is $45 per hour per terp portal to portal. For an hour long meeting there are two interpreters sent so they can spell each other. It is a very expensive proposition for a non-profit children’s organization on a local level and I’d guess it would require a massive budget increase for the troop. I’ve been fiddling with numbers and I’m guessing that for 50 one hour meetings a year it would run about $13,000.00 for two terps including travel time.

    It is my understanding that VideoPhone (VP) is NOT to be used when everyone is in the same room. It is for phone calls, not to avoid legitimate payment for services. Also, imagine how difficult it would be for an interpreter over the phone to have any concept of which voice s/he should interpret in a group of young people. You’d have to have the VP operator on a speaker phone and the child would be glued to the video, not the group. You can’t use it while camping or outside, either, at least not easily. T

    The reality is that certified interpreters are never “free” when a service is provided. Someone is paying for it and that someone is the state providing services to it’s deaf citizens.

    I believe there is a Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in every American jurisdiction. In Massachusetts (and other states as well, I am sure) there is the ability to request funding for the deaf person to cover interpreters at certain meetings. For instance, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, etc can have interpreters for the deaf paid for by the Commission for the Deaf. It is how I get terps paid for when I attend 12 step meetings, however, there is a limit on funding.

    It would be worthwhile for the parents to investigate whether interpretation services could have been provided through the state. Maybe they did and there was no funding. I don’t know. If there was that option then perhaps the troop could be reconstituted.

    • This makes sense, and may nullify what I said. However, I can see how the video option may be an intelligent jump-off point. You are correct that a G.S.A. troop could not afford live interpreters at each meeting and function. Perhaps through some form of technology or another, such as Video Interpreting, a solution could be found.

      • If I have a choice of a terp or CART I prefer a terp, although CART is easier for me right now. VP is great for phone conversations, although I bet that terp was tired after an hour. Captel or other captioning services can be okay for phone calls.

        If we think of the $50 limit the GSA cites, it makes sense in most cases. A GS in a wheelchair may only need a ramp to get up steps (there are portable ramps) or into a van. Sighted GS’s in the troop can learn to be sighted guides for a blind GS. I suspect there is a braille version of GS literature already. The only disability I can think of that requires a large amount of money to accommodate is deafness.

        I am very aware how much it will cost me to hire a terp for private needs. My ex-husband was blind and while he felt seriously impaired by his inability to drive, he could take a subsidized cab to the train, use his subsidized handicap accommodation card to ride the train, could have gotten a Seeing Eye Dog but preferred either a cane or human sighted guide, and used talking books on his computer in preference to braille.

        As Helen Keller said, “Blindness cuts us off from things; deafness cuts us off from people.”

  6. Sad but true, Marsha. Here’s a thought. If the troops can train sighted girls as guides, couldn’t they offer ASL as an optional course, thereby allowing some hearing girls to provide interpreter services? Just a thought. I mean, it’s not like the G.S.A. cares what some dude thinks.

  7. It’s the first time you’ve said something I don’t agree with. Girl Scouts is for everyone and can’t show partiality. There is probably a signing badge and the Leaders could take Level 1. There will also be sign language students in the community if she doesn’t feel she can cope without an interpreter.
    To have a paid person at a free club (apart from subs) seems weird. I also believe in everyone working together to make life better. If the founder managed it, there should be an attempt to overcome the issue and not just a demand for help. Apologies to other people here who don’t agree, but I would take my very bad Level 1 and help out if there was an issue in my local community. If we take a positive attitude we win.

  8. Hearing Wellbeing – You raised some important points. A community can come together to support this Girl Scout, her troop, and its need for interpreting. Can interpreting come from volunteers? Perhaps, as long as the volunteers are fluent in sign and can make a commitment to assist the girl weekly, monthly, or when requested. Lawsuits are definitely a slippery slope, if one hasn’t exhausted all other means to reach an agreement between parties. Working together—both the girl’s parents, her troop, and Girl Scouts headquarters—to accomodate interpreting needs is the most positive approach, in Lipreading Mom’s humble opinion..

  9. I’m a girl scout leader with hearing loss. This news story makes me so sad for everyone involved. Girl Scouting is such an wonderful opportunity for the girls. I can’t imagine how frustrating it was for both the parents and the former troop leader to have the funds no longer be available for an interpreter. My question is this, Why not step up to the plate and volunteer to be a troop co-leader/assistant instead of suing? Did anyone do the work to find a sponsor for the troop to pay for interpreting services? Sometimes the families need to put their time in where their mouth is to get things done. I’ve seen troops accomplish amazing things when given the chance. I also think anotherboomerbloger is right about her “friends”. I would think that after so many years with the same girls, some would be able to sign with her.

    My girls picked up on me signing with my daughter. Now most of them have some rudimentary knowledge of common signs. I can’t carry on a conversation in sign but they do clarify meaning. I was surprised at how quickly they picked it up. I guess it beats yelling “I have to go to the bathroom”.

  10. I have a suggestion should you ever need to have sign language interpreters. I used to teach at local community college and I required my ASL students to get their ASL hours in community service for credit by volunteering in organizations like Girl Scouts, etc. Perhaps if you can contact your local college and see if such service is available. Also, your local Deaf Service Center or Speech & Hearing centers sometimes provide resources to make contacts for services. Please do feel free to ask questions, I’ll try to help with what resources are out there in the communities. We’re all here to help if we can. Cheers!

      • I will have to remember that. I was talking to the other girl scout leaders and I asked if they have ever had HOH or Deaf girls in their troops. No one has. I asked around my daughter’s school. Everyone is sure that there must be HOH or Deaf students but no one knows of any. My troop is full. We couldn’t take on any more girls without having more leaders. It’s kind of something that’s got me thinking. I’d like to include girls in my troop who are like me. I’ve been excluded from things.

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