La Crosse Sign Language Interpreters Bring Music to Life for the Deaf Community

Americans with Disabilities Act includes housing for the deaf community; Country Boom welcomes ASL interpreters for the first time

WEST SALEM, Wis. (WKBT) – People’s the ears allow them to understand and communicate, but for some, their sight provides what their hearing does not allow them. A country music festival allowed people to share music with the deaf community. JThese services not only help people enjoy life, but they are also required by law.


Seeing is listening

Images and sounds help people understand the world around them. Another perspective rests on those who must overcome what they have lost.

“Our hearing is our eyes,” said Theresa Lewis, who has lived in La Crosse all her life.

“If you’ve ever been underwater, that’s how we feel,” said Mike Lewis, Theresa’s husband.

Mike and Theresa Lewis listen with their eyes. In fifth grade, Mike suffered from pneumonia which produced a fever so high it cost him most of his hearing.

“But that didn’t stop me,” Mike Lewis said.

Mike and Theresa’s passion might surprise you.

“Music relaxes people, and for me, I grew up with music,” he said.

Obviously, they absorb melodies and lyrics differently than others, but deaf ears can’t stop the rhythm of a track from touching their soul.

“We even threw music in the car while we were driving, to the point where hearing people couldn’t stand it,” Mike Lewis said.

The loss of one meaning, Theresa says, reinforces another.

“I can feel the rhythm. If it’s really loud, the louder the better,” said Theresa Lewis. “This vibration, its movement. It’s wonderful for me.

Mike and Theresa wanted to tap into their love of country music at Country Boom in West Salem.

“I emailed them and they turned me down,” Theresa Lewis said.

The couple asked Country Boom executives to provide a performer at the music festival. Something Colleen Cudo does for people every day.

“It’s equal access,” Cudo said. “That’s what it takes.”

Cudo helps the deaf community understand medical information from the Mayo Clinic Health System. She also performs music for the deaf community and has done so at music festivals throughout the region.

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects people with physical and mental barriers in public places and events. Title III requires public places and events to provide auxiliary aids to people who cannot hear.

§ 36.303 Auxiliary aids and services.
(a general. Public accommodation must take
the measures that may be necessary to ensure that
no disabled person is excluded, denied
servicesisolated or otherwise treated differently from other people because of the absence
auxiliary aids and services, unless the public
the accommodation can demonstrate that taking these
measures would fundamentally change the nature of the
goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages,
or accommodations offered or would result
in excessive demand, i.e. significant difficulty or
costs.
(b) Examples. The term “auxiliary aids and services” includes –
(1) Qualified interpreters on site or by
remote video interpretation services (VRI); note takers; real-time computer-assisted transcription
services; written documents

civil rights attorney for Disability Rights Wisconsin, Steven Wheeler said people must first request these services.

“If someone asks and they say no, that’s different,” Wheeler said. “It’s a refusal to accommodate.”

Exceptions to the rule exist if the change creates a health or safety risk – hosting would fundamentally change the nature of the service – or if there is an unreasonable cost.

“Really if it’s not doable,” Wheeler said. “Not just if it’s going to drive down profit margins.”

The emails show Theresa and Mike have requested this service from Country Boom on several occasions since 2019. Country Boom staff have denied their request each time.

“It’s hard to imagine a situation where a company couldn’t afford the small amount of money for the interpreter.

“I think that would be a clear violation,” Wheeler said.

“We have ramps, don’t we – so people in wheelchairs can get down there and enjoy it,” Cudo said. “So why don’t we provide the interpreter for those who can’t hear it?”

After News 8 Now reached out to Country Boom’s senior management, co-founder Jon Holthaus said they would be hosting this year.

“We love music and we want to enjoy it with everyone,” said Theresa Lewis.

Cudo highlighted the joy a move like this brings.

“We love it,” Mike Lewis said.

“Whether it’s going to the grocery store or going to a concert, it’s all part of our lives,” Wheeler said. “Living a life full of joy is something that should be available to everyone; not just people who can hear.

Evidence of its impact was left in the form of a smile on Mike and Theresa’s face at Country Boom 2022. Their world may seem so calm, but it screams of possibility when the community welcomes them as they are.

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