Super Bowl Performance Brings Visual Language to Big Audience

Chosen by the National Association of the Deaf to perform at the Super Bowl pregame, a deaf performer brought down the house and amplified the need for visual language in a range of events and communications.

A deaf performer, Warren “Wawa” Snipe, stole the show at the recent Super Bowl LV pregame show. He wasn’t center stage—he performed between the 10- and 20-yard lines—but his performance went viral on social media, earning thousands of positive responses. It also brought well-deserved attention to the need for a wide array of events—including national and local news—to be interpreted in American Sign Language.

“Having a deaf artist perform the national anthem and ‘America the Beautiful’ in ASL at the Super Bowl is truly meaningful,” said National Association of the Deaf CEO Howard A. Rosenblum. “He has increased awareness about ASL and the linguistic rights of deaf and hard-of-hearing people.”

“Wawa,” as he is known, is a trailblazing recording artist in the hip-hop world with his own niche he calls dip-hop—“hip-hop through deaf eyes”—which explores the genre through a blend of audio and imagery. He aims to “put deaf recording artists on the map,” according to an NAD announcement. Snipe sent in videos to NAD in December for a chance to perform at the Super Bowl and was chosen in January.

The pandemic has added urgency to the need for ASL interpreters. “Many deaf and hard-of-hearing people were not able to get full access to information about COVID-19 during many of the press briefings at the beginning of the pandemic,” Rosenblum said. “There are at least 48 million deaf and hard-of-hearing people in the country, and yet they are often forgotten during these crises.”

The Biden administration recently added an ASL interpreter to its regular press briefings. Despite repeated requests from NAD and members of Congress, the Trump administration did not provide ASL interpreters during its press briefings.

That changed in September 2020, when a federal district court ordered the White House to provide ASL interpreters live-streamed on its website for all public briefings addressing COVID-19 held by the president, vice president, and the White House press secretary.

“[The Biden administration’s] willingness to provide ASL interpreters at all press briefings should now be the standard for accessibility going forward for all presidential administrations,” Rosenblum said.

Since April 2020, the governors of all 50 states have provided ASL interpreters at their press conferences, he said, and NAD is monitoring the situation to make sure this will continue.

“More work needs to be done to ensure that every press conference, including those done by mayors and other municipalities, provides information clearly with both quality captioning and qualified ASL interpreters,” he said.

Snipe’s performance demonstrated, on an enormous national stage, the power of one person’s ability to shed light on an often-overlooked necessity—sign language interpretation.

“Never stop efforts to bring into the public what makes your community unique and special,” Rosenblum advised. “Find a creative outlet for these standout characteristics so that the world can see and learn about your community.”

(YouTube screenshot)

Lisa Boylan

By Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now. MORE

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