Pittsburgh filmmaker Emmai Alaquiva wanted to talk to his 8-year-old daughter about the racial climate in the US, but was afraid that at her age she might not be able to fully understand the problems.
“I told her the name ‘George Floyd’ and we talked about what Black Lives Matter means,” he says. “I kind of gave her the Cliffs Notes version to give her some inspiration.”
However, his daughter surprised him and came back to him with a question, “She said,” Hey, Dad, how come there aren’t people who use sign language or ASL in your photos and videos? “It was a great point, we weren’t. He says he and his daughter are taking ASL classes together, part of his mission to help her learn to express herself in a variety of media.
Over the next few days, Alaquiva reached out to professionals in the deaf and hard of hearing community, including freelance sign language interpreter Amy Crawford, Danielle Filip of Pittsburgh area Sign Language Interpreting Professionals, and Greg Pollock, accessibility officer at PNC Bank, to be consultants on the script for the video he wanted to make, with a message in American sign language.
“I wanted to make sure the messages were clear and that we were not internalizing the community,” said Alaquiva.
The result is “Unspeakable,” a public service announcement with members of the deaf community: “While we may be deaf, we can hear the world loud and clear,” the group said.
“I hope ‘Unspeakable’ draws attention to the fundamental human right to communication access as a common thread connecting us all,” said Filip.
The nuances of communicating in sign language were important to get into the video well, Alaquiva said: For example, the word ‘black’ referring to the color can be signed with one finger in the hand shape ASL 1 moving horizontally across the forehead. But when referring to a black person, the board uses four fingers pressed together in the ASL “b” hand shape that moves horizontally across the forehead and is generally reserved for use by black people, Alaquiva said.
Participating in public gatherings is often challenging for the deaf and hard of hearing, especially in large crowds with many people wearing face masks covering their mouths. Activists have partnered with the National Alliance of Multicultural Disabled Advocates to push for #BlackDisabledLivesMatter’s efforts to highlight these challenges, Teen Vogue columnist Sarah Kim reported. They also want to draw attention to the number victims of police violence with disabilities.
Alaquiva said he hopes that the PSA will inspire others involved in protest movements to be more inclusive, not necessarily just for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, but for anyone with disabilities. “It’s not our job to just do something and then do our business,” he said. “There is a picture I took during a protest in Oakland that said on the person’s board,“ I’m sorry I’m late, I still had a lot to learn. That can apply to any movement you want to be a part of. Whether you are on time or late, you have to show up. ‘