Hearing loss advocate and loop installation expert, Reverend Mary Dyer, puts up the passionate cry for political meetings that are accessible to those with communication and hearing issues.
By Mary Dyer
It was with mixed feelings that I recently read about a political picnic where a number of the gubernatorial candidates were to meet with constituents to share their views of where they believe the state should go. Mixed feelings because, although I like a good picnic as much as anyone, it was unlikely that any attention would be given to those with hearing loss who would therefore have to struggle to understand what was being said.
I am a person with hearing loss. I lost my hearing suddenly eight years ago and, while I now have a cochlear implant, I need some sort of assistive listening to hear clearly. This has meant that I have been unable to attend any legislative coffees, meetings, campaign events, or caucuses. Some of the larger events have had sign language interpreters, under the mistaken belief that this meets the needs of all those with hearing loss.
Not so. For every person who communicates via American Sign Language (ASL), there are 40 of us who rely on hearing assistance, as our language is the spoken one. We want to be involved. We want to contribute. We want not only to be heard, but to hear.
So, I have issued challenges/invitations to both the Republican and Democratic parties of Iowa, the state in which I live. Last week I had the opportunity to meet with Nate Boulton, Democratic candidate for governor, followed by a meeting with Kevin Geiken at the Iowa Democratic Party headquarters, to share with them my “Accessibility Pledge.” I also tried to contact the Republican state party, but to date have received no response. This is a non-partisan issue and I hope this opinion piece can generate some conversation and a change in how we welcome – or don’t welcome, by de facto exclusion – certain groups of people to our events.
Accessibility Pledge by Candidates Running for Office
“We are working hard to support the inclusion of all Iowans (or citizens of any state, province or nation) in the upcoming election cycle. To accomplish this, we are focusing on making all of our campaign stops fully accessible, not only to those who have physical challenges, such as those in wheelchairs or using canes or walkers, but also for those who need assistance with effective communication.
“Thus we will make sure that that there is always an assistive listening system available and advertised at every event, and, in addition, we will provide a sign language interpreter if someone requests it in advance (Contact Phone number; email; text message to make arrangements).
We encourage anyone running for or already in a statewide office to sign on to this pledge so that people who are Deaf or hard of hearing , along with those who use wheelchairs and other mobility aids, etc, are fully included, as is their right, in participatory democracy.”
Ensuring All Constituents Have Access to Meetings, Events
Here are ways to ensure that people from all parties might support this pledge, so that it doesn’t become another piece of unfulfilled campaign rhetoric:
- Designate a staff accessibility person.
- Choose accessible sites for meetings — including both mobility access (e.g., wheelchairs, ramps, etc.) as well as hearing access.
- Questions to ask venue:
Does venue have a public address system?
Will it be available to use?
Does it have any assistive listening systems? What kind?
Does it have CART (real time captioning)?
Will these be available for use in a convenient place?
- Invest in a portable assistive listening system that may be used and set up before meeting.
- Make sure this accessibility information is included in any press release, announcement, Facebook, flyer, or any other media release.
- When arriving at site, have your accessibility person check in venue to make sure the accessibility is functioning and in working order.
- Have signage in a prominent location.
- Make short announcement at beginning of meeting telling about the assistive listening system and point to where there are headsets, if needed.
So – who who is ready to join me in this pledge? Who is willing to step beyond the pledge and root it in the tradition of political discourse, not only in the state of Iowa, but in all states, in all countries?
Speak up – loud and clear. Do this for the thousands of people who, like me, have hearing loss, as well as those who are barred from physical access. Because we’re worth it and we deserve it.
Let’s get started.
Photos: Countylive.com and ccacaptioning.org
Since becoming deaf eight years ago, Rev. Mary Dyer has become a passionate advocate for full inclusion of those with hearing loss. She and her spouse, Rev. Sheryl Butler, created Hearing Access Solutions to educate the public about hearing loss and hearing loops.