By Maura M. Pfeifer
The Department of State’s deaf and hard of hearing foreign affairs employees took center stage at the Sign@State Symposium, April 21. The event featured the Department’s first-ever panel conducted entirely in American Sign Language (ASL) and a second panel with accessibility, accommodation, and recruitment experts from the Department’s Bureau of Global Talent Management. Panelists shared their experiences about working at the Department and gave valuable career-related information for participants interested in joining the Department. Secretary of State Antony Blinken opened the event signing “welcome” in ASL, followed by brief remarks.
Reaching more than 300 audience members in 40 states and 14 countries, Sign@State demonstrated both the importance of diverse, inclusive, and accessible programming as well as the Department’s commitment to reaching diverse audiences globally. Making this groundbreaking concept a reality required collaboration, teamwork, and rethinking many of the workforce’s standard operating assumptions. To that end, event organizers worked closely with members of the Deaf and hard of hearing communities to keep accessibility and inclusion at the forefront of their program design and implementation at all stages of the process.
The Department’s Office of Accessibility and Accommodations (OAA) was essential to this event’s success.
“From promotional graphics to ASL interpreting, our OAA team ensured that the event was fully accessible, and they were also an integral part of the second panel discussion,” said OAA Director Jameela Raja Akbari.
The Bureau of Global Public Affairs video production team developed an innovative ASL-first approach. In the first half of the event, to ensure the focus remained on the deaf panelists and that each had a unique voice, the team reconfigured the television studio to accommodate both the panelists and the multiple ASL interpreters. The team also learned new communication techniques that are standard in the Deaf community to communicate with the panelists during the event.
Sign@State inspired the next generation of American diplomats while setting a new standard for inclusion and accessibility.
“Deaf Gain in diplomacy spaces is vital because we need deaf and hard of hearing individuals representing the U.S. on the front lines of diplomacy abroad,” said Roberta Mather, one of the panel moderators. “The individuals that shape the signing community are vibrant, bringing intersectionality, unique lived experiences, and new ways of thinking. If we let them bring I3—influence, identity, and impact—to diplomacy, the world will be a better place for it.”
Maura M. Pfeifer is a Foreign Service officer in the Bureau of Global Public Affairs.