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Videos, seating and lots of lighting – here's what it's like to go to gigs if you're deaf

Live band on stage with no sound symbol
Photograph: Creative Commons

Sometimes the music at a gig isn’t as important as you’d expect. “I think hearing people really are obsessed with music and I've never really understood that,” says Stef Linder, the learning and training manager at Expression Australia. Both Stef and her colleague Olivia Beasley are completely deaf. And both Linder and Beasley enjoy going to live gigs. “Hearing people assume that I don't like music, that I wouldn't be interested in going to gigs or clubs,” says Beasley. “But I am, I just engage with it in a different way.”

While more venues, artists and events are providing deaf-accessible shows (Melbourne even has Ability Fest, a music festival that prides itself on being as accessible as possible), finding an Auslan-interpreted show is still tricky. Interpreters who can accurately interpret music are quite new, says Linder.

“We don't train interpreters to become music interpreters – but there are a few that do specialise because they have an innate skill.”

Interpreters alone aren’t enough to make a show accessible and enjoyable to deaf guests (though they should always be available, says Beasley). Without being able to hear sound, enjoying a live show for deaf people becomes largely about the overall spectacle. Visual elements – things like music videos, graphics and montages all make a show more accessible, and that’s before you even get to the very important issue of lighting. “Deaf people are like moths,” says Beasley. “Light is important for us.”

It’s even possible to “see” the music by watching how hearing people dance. “We can identify the beats through people's behavior which is dance,” says Beasley.

“You can follow and kind of see the rhythm and the beat through how other people are moving.”

Linder adds, “It's interesting to see how people interpret music and move differently.”

The trifecta of lighting, visuals and interpreters that help make live shows more accessible to the deaf community reveal an unlikely hero: cabaret. Beasley explains: “I love cabaret. Most of the time there's an interpreter there, so they sign the songs and then the performer will talk about the song. It helps me understand the culture of where the song has come from.”

Some organisations and venues are already leading the charge when it comes to making shows deaf friendly (the Butterfly Club and Melbourne Fringe Festival both get thumbs up) but many more are dragging their feet. Providing a space with lighting, seating as well as actively providing interpreters helps ensure all guests can enjoy the event.

Here are six things you only know if you're an Auslan interpreter.

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