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NHL brings in sign language interpreter for commissioner

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DENVER (AP) — Bryce Christianson went to sporting events as a child and realized how out of reach this world was for his deaf father.

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On Wednesday night, he stood 10 feet from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, translating English into American Sign Language for the league’s annual stadium performance. Stanley Cup Final. Christianson was shown a picture-in-picture on the NHL network interpreting the remarks of Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly.

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Sign language interpreters were present at the national anthems, but it was the NHL’s biggest move to make hockey stories accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people.

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“We’re only scratching the surface,” said Christianson, CEO of PXP, which specializes in making sports and entertainment more accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing. “Before, we always felt that we were lucky. It’s like I felt like we were lucky to be here, they give us the opportunity and I don’t mean it arrogantly, but now I feel like we belong to them.”

Christianson and PXP COO Jason Altmann didn’t just belong together. They were guests of honor in the finals, spending time with Bettman and other league executives in the Ball Arena Green Room after helping out at the press conference. Altmann noted that it is important to have access to American Sign Language for play, commentary and news to make the sport more engaging.

“Fans are different, and deaf and hard of hearing people belong to that,” he said in American Sign Language, translated by Christianson. “I am also an NHL fan. Many deaf and hard of hearing fans are big fans of hockey, but they are often excluded.”

Having Christian to translate Bettman and Daly is one of the league’s focus on diversity and inclusion initiatives, which are heavily focused on improving gender and racial balance. Executive Director Melissa Parnagian knows that the deaf and hard of hearing are not usually the first group considered in this department, but she has spoken extensively with Christianson and Altmann about what can help and what they need.

“They emphasized to us that a lot of what you can see in gameplay is easy to capture, but a lot of the commentary and the business of the game, the culture of the game – things off the ice – are often things that get lost because it’s less visual,” said Parnagian, NHL Manager of Growth Strategies and Social Impact. “The commissioner’s speech is one of those big moments where you start hearing about where the game is going, all this off-ice context, and we thought it was a good moment to really use that moment for accessibility and something that we hope to develop. ”

The National Deaf Association approved the move by the NHL. CEO Howard Rosenblum called it another milestone and said, “We hope this momentum will lead to full access everywhere, including on TV broadcasts.”

Christianson, who first worked with the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, hopes one day his presence will stop being news. Its goal is to help normalize sign language interpreters and make them “automatic” for teams and leagues to use at major events.

“Deaf and hard of hearing fans have been excluded from many aspects of our lives, but primarily from professional sports,” he said. “Ideally, every team, every league has in mind some sort of accessibility and inclusion for deaf and hard of hearing fans and people with disabilities, and how do we maximize that and include them rather than tokenizing.”

Bill Millios, acting CEO of Deaf Main Street, a nonprofit dedicated to helping businesses owned by the deaf, said there’s a reluctance in this community to adjust to improved access for fear it won’t become permanent. He hopes the NHL will continue like this.

“Too often it was tasted and then taken away,” said the deaf Millios. “The NHL needs to understand that this is a long-term commitment. If they really believe in access, they should do it every time. Deaf hockey enthusiasts will grow over time.”

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Follow AP hockey writer Steven Wyno on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SWhyno.

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More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports




Source: sports.yahoo.com

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