LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A Pagan woman who is deaf alleges that Louisville Pagan Pride refused to provide her with a sign language interpreter for its upcoming Pagan Pride Day event. Event organizers say budget constraint was to blame for their initial refusal, but they are now making arrangements to accommodate Virginia Beach when she presents her workshop next Saturday.In early August, Beach contacted Louisville Pagan Pride (LPP) to ask if she could present a workshop on being Pagan and deaf. LPP accepted her workshop proposal. Then, on Aug. 18, Beach requested a sign language interpreter for the duration of her one-hour workshop. Five days later, LPP responded, saying they did not have it in their budget to hire an interpreter this year, but could do so next year.
Beach reportedly emailed back saying that she would be contacting several civil rights advocates and the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Justice.
“Do you have it in your budget to hire a lawyer when I sue you for violation of federal law? The Americans with Disabilities Act clearly states you cannot discriminate on the basis of disability. You cannot refuse to provide an interpreter. You simply don’t want to have to do it,” wrote Beach.
Pagan events and the Americans with Disabilities Act
Is LPP obligated, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, to provide a sign language interpreter for Beach for the Pagan Pride Day event? Attorney Alicia Dearn, with Bellatrix PC Law Office, says once an event is open to the public, accommodation is mandatory.
“Once open to the public, they have to create equal opportunities for participation in all capacities,” Dearn explains. She says this holds true for any volunteer, attendee, presenter, or vendor who attends the event.
Dearn noted there are circumstances when an event doesn’t have to provide accommodation for attendees with disabilities. She said if an attendee doesn’t ask for accommodation until they arrive at the event, “then they can claim that, while they want to accommodate, it creates an undue burden because they can’t instantly procure the accommodation.”
Another circumstance may be if the event could experience financial hardship in providing the needed accommodation. Dearm cautions, “Usually expense alone is not adequate to claim undue burden.” She went on to say that if the expense incurred for accommodation would be their entire budget, that is a legitimate defense.
Her suggestion to organizations that are on tight or very small budgets and that receive requests for accommodation is to look for less expensive ways to comply. “They should attempt to get a volunteer interpreter or get a donor.”
Beach says she has attended other events where a sign language interpreter was provided. “Heartland Pagan Festival and Gaia Goddess Gathering, which both take place at Camp Gaia in Kansas have provided interpreters in the past.” She says PantheaCon, Ecumenicon, and a Pagan Leadership Training conference have also provided interpreters.
However, Beach notes most Pagan events don’t initially accommodate attendees with disabilities. She says even at the events where an interpreter has been provided, “it usually was the result of some considerable advocacy efforts before such services were finally provided. It has been rare for me to find the Pagan organization that willingly and voluntarily provides such services without my having to educate, advocate, and sometimes even agitate in order to convince them to do so.”
Lady Annabelle, high priestess of Grove of Gaia, helps host a Beltane festival in Pittsburgh called Gaia Fest. The festival includes vendors, psychics, workshops, and speakers.In 2016 she received a request for a sign language interpreter by an attendee. Annabelle says she contacted the disability services where she works to see if they could provide an interpreter. They said they could not.
Next, she reportedly called the Unitarian church where they hold Gaia Fest annually and found out one of the members of the church does deaf interpretation and was available. The cost was $125 an hour, and she signed for an hour-long keynote and two 30-minute workshops.
Annabelle paid for the interpreter herself because “it was very important to me to have this deaf woman included in the fest, and able to really enjoy what she wanted to attend.”
Louisville Pagan Pride navigates compliance
In an interview with The Wild Hunt, LPP describes the internal process they’ve gone through, going from refusing accommodation due to expense, examining the legal duties they have, and then finding a resolution.
When asked to provide an interpreter for a disabled person wishing to present a workshop, we looked at how much it would cost to hire an interpreter, we took a look at our numbers, and our first response was, “We do not have it in our budget” and declined her workshop. Little did we know of the backlash that would ensue as this person threatening us saying, “Do you have it in your budget to hire a lawyer when I sue you for violation of federal law?”
This statement had opened our eyes to look into our budget and asking ourselves, “Where did our funds go?” Donations, vendor fees, fees for info booths and other streams of income. Why was our budget so tight and strapped for funds that we could not afford an interpreter?
The main reason we found out was our venue. Within the past year, our Kentucky governor had cut funding to the parks in Kentucky. This forced the parks of Kentucky to look for other sources of income, which raised rates to nearly double of what we had paid for the same venue the year prior. To assist with this rise in rate from the parks system, we were forced to charge for space for our info booths from free to $10 for each area. We had considered raising our rates for our vendor booths. But for our 2017 event, we chose not to.
Also with the cuts of funding to the parks, Waterfront Development Corp. board voted 7-3 Weds., Aug. 23 to charge park users a $3 fee to park for three hours in a Waterfront Park lot Wednesday to Saturday. This will not take effect until after our event.
Imagine our dismay when an unknown presenter comes to us, as a volunteer, to lead a workshop, demanded to have an interpreter present, and to pay out of pocket from an already tight budget. We declined simply because of budget constraints. We currently have several workshops lined up and none of these workshops have a demand for resources. We had also turned down an entertainer after we had booked our main entertainment because she requested to be compensated.
Fast forward, naturally the community has started digging. We now have hired an interpreter that will work with us for two hours minimum. We have found a generous anonymous donor that will foot the bill of an interpreter for us. We have found space during our workshop schedule for the workshop. All we have left is to have the presenter accept our invitation.
Beach has since declined the invitation, withdrawing her workshop proposal. She reportedly said that she was no longer interested.
Beach also offers a suggestion for the wider community, which can both help Pagans with disabilities take part in events and help off set financial liabilities for smaller events. “The Pagan community needs to do more fundraising in order to develop an accessibility fund which can help to offset the cost of interpreters and other services needed to accommodate persons with disabilities.”
She also added that Pagan leaders and event organizers should develop relationships with the deaf community and American Sign Language interpreters. She thinks these relationships could help the Pagan community become more inclusive, and develop a better understanding of the needs of deaf Pagans.