>>Arlene Romoff: It’s my pleasure to introduce
today’s program of honorees, advocates for people with hearing loss. The Nederlander
Organization, Hands On, Ruth Bernstein, and Cecile Nipal. To get a greater appreciation of why
these awards are so important I thought it would be very helpful to give you a five minute
short course in hearing loss advocacy. This would be a good time to tell you that
I’m totally deaf. I’m hearing through the miracle of bilateral cochlear implants. There
is no way for you to know just by looking at me that I have this, or how much I’m hearing
either. So lesson number one is that hearing loss is an invisible disability. And it is
often misunderstood, underestimated, and neglected. There are now an estimated 40 million
Americans with hearing loss. So let’s look at the three main forms of access for people
with hearing loss. You’ll see that we have them here today. The assistive listening systems.
We have an induction loop in this room. I know that some people are using it. There
are two other types of assistive listening systems. Infrared and FM. These systems are
for people who benefit from amplification. Then there’s captioning. We have real time captioning
here today because it’s a live event. There are other kinds of captioning. Post-production
captioning for TV, videos, and movies. And scripted captioning for live theater. Captioning
is useful for people who don’t benefit fully or at all from assistive listening systems.
This is open captioning where everyone can see the words without having to ask for the
accommodation. That is considered universal access. That is what should be provided at
public events, just like a ramp. We have sign language interpreters today used
by people who are in the signing Deaf, capital capital “D”, community. There are an estimated 500,000
Americans who use American Sign Language as their main means of communication.
So lesson number two is that these three types of accommodations assistive listening systems,
captioning, interpreters are the focus of hearing loss advocacy. These are our ramps.
When I first came to the Center, then the League for the Hard of Hearing, in the early
1970s, there were no assistive listening systems, no captioning, and no laws mandating access.
It didn’t exist. Access pretty much meant sign language interpreters, but like most
people with hearing loss, I didn’t use sign language. By the late 1970s, closed captioning
decoders became available for TVs. In 1993, all TV sets required to have built in captioning
capability. And in 2006, all TV stations were required to provide closed captioning. In
2012, legislation mandated that Internet videos that had been televised had to provide captioning.
In the 1970s, section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act required disability access for federally
funded facilities. Assistive listening systems started making their appearance in the 1980s,
particularly in Broadway theaters. And sign language interpreted performances began then
as well. By Hands On, and the Theater Development Fund. In the early 1990s, the FCC mandated
telephone relay services, which now include captioned and video phones, and a variety
of apps for cell phones as well. In 1991, enactment of the Americans with Disabilities
Act, the ADA, finally gave us a law that requires effective communication with specifics about
the three types of accommodations. Unfortunately, it is a complaint-driven law. So lesson number
three is that even though we have important legislation addressing access for people with
hearing loss, the laws are often ignored. And since captioning and assistive listening
systems are relatively new, there is also astonishing ignorance among providers as well
as people with hearing loss about what is available and required.
You can now see why advocacy for people with hearing loss became a serious mission with
the signing of the ADA in 1991. That is when the CHC, then the League for the Hard of Hearing,
formed advocates for better communication, ABC, to educate facilities and consumers on
their rights and legal obligations. Now think about all the places that spoken
language needs to be understood. TV, movies, conferences, classrooms, theaters, museums,
public events, hospitals, the work place. Every facet of life. And you can see how huge
communication access is. Let’s look at one example. Theater captioning.
Something I know something about. Imagine that you couldn’t go to the theater because
you needed captioning, and no shows provided it. Imagine walking around Times Square at
10:30 at night watching people scurrying around with play bills in hand. Imagine thinking
theater is only for other people, not for me. That was my reality, and many others like
me. That changed with successful advocacy of open captioned live theater in 1996 at
the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey. And then brought to Broadway by the Theater Development
Fund in 1997. So lesson number four, nothing should be only
for other people when accommodations are possible. What’s interesting about the prevalence of
captioning access and cochlear implants is that there is now a blurring of the lines
of deaf and hard of hearing. And even who uses what accommodation. We’ve reached the
age where whatever works best for you is the mantra.
So for example, the CHC’s Emotional Health and Wellness Center has counselors that can
interact directly with clients in American Sign Language. And the counselors can also
speak directly with clients who use oral communication, and advise on strategies for coping with hearing
loss. And so the advocacy mission continues. Anyone who has ever requested captioning for
an event, and had to explain what it is, or been given a sign language interpreter instead
knows that there is still much to be done. As we recognize the outstanding work of our
honorees, it’s important to remember that hearing loss, the invisible disability, continues
to need ever more light shone on it. Everyone wants to be able to participate at events
with appropriate access, and with dignity. [Applause]