Montreal

Montreal Jazz Festival won't provide interpreter for deaf music fan

A deaf woman who was hoping to attend the show of one of her favourite bands at the Montreal International Jazz Festival says she feels degraded and frustrated after organizers denied her request for a sign language interpreter.

Natasha Luttrell filed a complaint with Quebec Human Rights Commission after her request was denied

Natasha Luttrell, who is deaf, wanted to attend Walk Off the Earth's show at Montreal Jazz Fest and asked for an interpreter, but the festival turned down her request. (CBC)

A deaf woman who was hoping to catch one of her favourite bands at the Montreal International Jazz Festival says she feels degraded and frustrated after organizers denied her request for a sign language interpreter.

"It was frustrating," Natasha Luttrell said through an interpreter. "I asked for one performance — only one performance — to have an interpretation, and they refused."

Luttrell, who was born hearing, has a soft spot for music and still likes to attend concerts. She said she has memories of sounds and enjoys feeling the vibrations.

Concerts are even more enjoyable if there is an American Sign Language interpreter, which helps her understand the intonation of the songs and the emotional delivery of the performance.

Without interpreters, part of the experience is lost for an entire community of people, said Luttrell.

"What you're asking people to do is to lip-read," she said. "You're never going to get every word. You're too far from the stage. And lip reading a musician — it's near impossible."

Luttrell was born hearing and has a soft spot for music and still likes to attend concerts. She said she enjoys music because she has memories of sounds, and likes feeling the vibrations. 1:47

In May, when she realized Ontario-based Walk Off the Earth was playing at the festival, she emailed organizers to ask if they would provide an interpreter so she could enjoy the show.

A festival organizer wrote to Luttrell and turned down her request. "It is with great regret that we cannot follow through with your request as it is not a service offered at the festival," the reply said.

The festival's refusal to accommodate her left Luttrell frustrated. She says it comes down to a question of accessibility for the deaf community.

"Music, musicians don't only belong to the hearing community," she said.

The decision from organizers comes as the festival takes steps to make the event safer and more accessible to people with reduced mobility.

The festival confirmed that it doesn't provide interpreters and said it is investigating.

Left out

After the festival refused to provide a sign language interpreter, Luttrell decided to file a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission in early June. 

"It feels illegal," she said.

Luttrell believes she's being denied access to an event that's free and open to everyone else. As a result of the festival's refusal, she's stuck with staying home or footing the costly bill to hire an interpreter herself.

For Luttrell, the fact that the acclaimed festival received $2 million in federal funding this year makes it even more frustrating while members of the deaf community have to cover costs to join in on events.

"By paying for an interpreter, it's no longer free to the public," she said. "It's not accessible."

The Montreal Jazz Festival said sign language interpretation 'is not a service offered at the festival.' (CBC)

An ongoing issue

Venues can find it a challenge to provide sign language interpreters for members of the deaf community, said Luttrell.

She has reached out to several companies for interpreters over the years and says while the Just For Laughs comedy festival has always been accommodating, most organizations don't provide such services.

The Canadian Association of the Deaf said that it wants the federal government to create legislation to provide accessibility services such as sign language interpretation.

Luttrell said those barriers are a struggle that most Canadians aren't aware of.

"I think it's important for people to understand that access to interpreters and events in general through interpretation is a pervasive issue, not only here in Montreal but in most places," she said.

With files from CBC's Jaela Bernstien