At times, the smallest act of kindness can have the most significant impact on the lives of others. This was certainly true in the case of Randy Latini, the officiant at his sister-in-law’s August 2022 wedding in Hamilton, New Jersey. Randy incorporated American Sign Language (ASL) into the marriage ceremony for the benefit of Deaf flower girl Riley Pacala and her parents. This act had a powerful emotional impact that made the event especially meaningful for everyone in attendance.
Riley’s Deafness Led Her Parents to Learn ASL
Two-year-old Riley was born deaf. However, she is learning to communicate in ASL and uses cochlear implants to find fresh ways to convey her thoughts and feelings every day.
Riley’s 34-year-old mother, Christina, the groom’s sister, and her husband, Andrew, were caught off guard the day they learned Riley had failed a standard newborn hearing test. At first, the couple was afraid they would never be able to communicate with their daughter. But after doing some research, they discovered that using ASL is the best way to interact with a Deaf person. And it turned out that learning the language was much easier than they had imagined.
Also, Riley was a natural at signing and got the knack of it even faster than her parents. She does have cochlear implants, but as Christina noted in an Instagram post, “This is not a ‘fix’ for her deafness. Riley will always be deaf, and we will always be proud of that.”
Randy Latini Recognized the Value of ASL for Riley and Her Parents
With her upbeat attitude and bright personality, Riley brings joy and excitement to everyone around her. So, Christina’s brother Brian Regan and his fiancée Jamie Kehoe knew that Riley would make the ideal flower girl for their upcoming wedding. The fact that she was deaf had no influence on how much Brian and Jamie loved the cheerful little cherub. And because she was always so happy and animated, they thought she’d bring positive energy to their wedding ceremony.
Then, as a surprise, the bride’s brother-in-law, Randy, secretly learned ASL to convey the couple’s wedding vows by signing at the ceremony. Randy wanted to make everyone in his new extended family feel right at home at the wedding, including Riley.
Randy’s thoughtful act showed his tremendous love and respect for Riley. It also set an example of including Deaf people in social events that his family will never forget.
Randy Secretly Learned ASL to Make the Wedding more Inclusive
Randy, who is married to Jamie Kehoe’s sister, learned ASL after contacting a teacher of the Deaf at the school where he works. He then spent the next two months studying the language. “I sent her what I wanted to say and she sent me a video showing how to sign those phrases,” he said. “After that, I just had to practice.”
No one in the family knew that Randy was secretly learning sign language to include Riley in the wedding. So, when he began speaking and moving his hands simultaneously while officiating the ceremony, it made the surprise for the family much greater.
Randy’s Use of ASL had a Strong Impact
Riley’s mom Christina had a powerful emotional reaction to Randy’s kind deed. Riley is barely two years old and would have been unable to understand most of the words Randy was signing. However, Christina knew exactly what was going on, and it brought tears to her eyes.
At first Christina couldn’t believe what she was seeing when Randy began to sign. Then her emotions kicked in. “I was a bridesmaid and I started sobbing so hard when I realized he wasn’t just moving his hands — he was signing the word “family”, Christina said. “He didn’t make it a big deal; he didn’t even tell anyone,” she added. “But it was a big deal to us. It signifies that the two families that joined on this day recognize that they have a Deaf family member and will make an effort to include, love, and support her.”
Though Riley is too young to fully understand Randy’s thoughtful gesture, it meant the world to her parents. “It was Randy’s way of saying, ‘Riley is a member of our family and she uses sign language to communicate, so we will too,’” explained Christina in a Today show interview. “He was sending a message about inclusivity.” One of the phrases that Randy signed at the wedding was “Families that learn together grow together.”
Deaf Inclusion at Events such as Weddings is Important
Randy Latini’s use of ASL to include Riley in her uncle’s wedding ceremony reflects a growing trend toward greater inclusivity for people with disabilities. As the number of individuals with disabilities continues to grow globally, event planners need to ensure that their gatherings are accessible to all. Unfortunately, being deaf or hard of hearing is an invisible form of disability, so it’s often neglected when affairs like weddings and funerals are arranged.
Including people with disabilities like the Deaf and Hard of Hearing means giving them physical, social, and economic access to the same opportunities as those enjoyed by people without disabilities. This is often achieved through the use of customized accommodations.
The Global Deaf/HOH Population is Expanding Each Year
When Deaf or Hard-of-hearing people are scheduled to attend an event like a wedding, going all out to accommodate them makes a big difference. According to research by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, roughly 37.5 million adults in the US have some degree of difficulty hearing, and this number is expected to grow. So, it’s essential to consider using means such as ASL interpretation to include members of the Deaf/HOH community in public and private events.
Consider the Varied Needs of Deaf/HOH Community Members
The 2022 Academy Awards ceremony illustrated how to integrate ASL and ASL interpretation into a diverse gathering of people. All Deaf nominees and Award winners had individual interpreters for the show. Plus, four more interpreters signed all the live-streamed activities occurring inside the theater. And a captioning company generated live captions for the event.
Members of the Deaf/HOH population are not all alike. For example, many use sign language as their primary communication method, whereas others may employ assistive devices like hearing aids, cochlear implants, FM systems, accessible telephones, or visual alert systems. Thus, it’s important to avoid making assumptions about attendees’ needs and to ask beforehand to allow adequate time to fulfill their requirements.
If possible, organizers should include people from the Deaf/HOH community in the event-planning process. Each Deaf/HOH person’s experience is unique and has its own set of accommodations.
Ways to Make an Event More Deaf/HOH Inclusive
Here are some pointers for making an event such as a wedding more inclusive for both hearing and Deaf/HOH guests alike.
Provide microphones for the main participants, such as a couple getting married. Everyone who attends wants to hear what’s being said during a toast or speech, and only some who speak are skilled at projecting their voice.
To accommodate Deaf/HOH people at the event, provide a sign language interpreter for spoken segments such as vows, speeches, and announcements by DJs or musicians.
If you intend to play a video during the event, add captions so the Deaf/HOH attendees can enjoy the show, too.
Communicate in advance
Find out before the event if any Hard-of-hearing or Deaf guests needing special accommodations will be attending. Then offer them and their guests reserved seats in the front row of the venue so they won’t miss a word.
These simple steps can help ensure that your affairs will be inclusive of all guests and provide the most enjoyable experience for everyone.