Holidays, translated Group opens events to deaf audiences

Posted: December 14, 2005

Along with the holiday season come traditions - concerts, plays and caroling. Their music, songs and spoken words contribute to our experience of the season, an experience the deaf and hard of hearing don't share.

That's why Creative Access, a nonprofit organization, has taken steps to bridge the cultural divide between individuals who can hear and those who cannot.

Carol Finkle, executive director of Creative Access, founded the organization in 1992 after struggling to find cultural activities she could experience with her two deaf children. Even going to the movies together was impossible, something she set out to change.

"What would make someone keep this [Creative Access] alive but a driven parent?" she said.

Finkle began contacting various cultural organizations, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Ballet and live theater and movie companies. She has successfully made the arts available to the deaf, and around the holidays, she redoubles her efforts.

For the past 12 years, Finkle and Jon Martin of the Pennsylvania Ballet have arranged a special showing of the seasonal favorite "The Nutcracker" for deaf students. The program, called Accessible Accent on Dance, allows students to see the final dress rehearsal of the ballet and then interact with the dancers to learn the language of ballet and the story of "The Nutcracker."

When Philadelphia kicked off the holiday season by lighting the Christmas tree at City Hall recently, Finkle was there with other members of Creative Access to interpret the festivities. While Mayor Street spoke on stage, an interpreter signed nearby for deaf audience members. Finkle believes it is important not to let "barriers keep the minority culture of the deaf invisible" at such events.

"We want to dismantle those barriers," she said.

Creative Access hosted five open-caption screenings of the latest installment of the Harry Potter film series, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," at the Regal Riverview Theater for deaf children and their families. Finkle said discussions are under way for a movie theater in the Philadelphia area that will play captioned films.

The Walnut Street Theater also has joined Creative Access' efforts to bring the holidays to deaf and hard-of-hearing people. Their production of "A Christmas Carol" will be staged today by a non-hearing audience mostly made up of students and senior citizens.

There will be a post-show talk-back with the actors, who will answer the students' questions about the play. "Interpreters facilitate communication between the hearing actors and the deaf students," Finkle explained.

While Creative Access has done much, there are still barriers that need to be broken down so that the deaf population isn't ignored, Finkel said, adding that with Creative Access, "We make life a better place for the deaf, because we include them in aspects of life that we say are as important as the air we breathe.

"We want to bridge the divides between the deaf and the hearing, and the best way to do this is through the world of culture." *

For more information or to volunteer at Creative Access, go to or call 215-569-8311.

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