Since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush 30 years ago, I have personally witnessed several excuses for lack of communication accessibility in public spaces.
“We don’t have the budget for that.”
“You must be a paid subscriber to enable subtitles.”
“We don’t handle accessibility matters. So and so does.”
“Can’t you just pay attention or turn the volume up?”
“We can have someone write notes and hand them to you.”
“That is against our COVID-19 policy to wear a clear face mask.”
As a member of my state’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission, I have come a long way in understanding the ADA and in bringing awareness to accessibility needs for individuals who, like myself, cannot fully hear. The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government’ programs and services.
Auto-Captions Are Not ADA Compliant
Recently, I wanted to learn more about a proposed state government bill that would provide an employment preference for persons with a disability for state government positions. I logged onto my state government’s livestream page to view a committee hearing about the bill. The screen had an audio-only stream that did not provide live captions or a transcript. No sign language interpretation was available.
The state government’s YouTube videos were also not accessible. They relied on auto-generated closed captions of meetings 30 to 60 minutes after they adjourned. Let’s just say that auto-generated captions are typically not of the highest quality or accuracy. During one video I viewed, I could see an unmasked committee member’s lips moving but no captions on the screen for several seconds. Because most of the members were wearing face masks and I could not see their lips, I wondered how many of them were talking when the captions failed to work.
We Must All Hold ADA Violators Accountable
Not being able to fully engage in my government’s meetings is due to ADA non-compliancy. All persons with disabilities are required by this law to have appropriate access to services, activities, and communications in government and private businesses.
Recently, I learned of a Zoom event that only enabled paid ticket-holders to have access to video subtitles. That is no different than asking for my friend in a wheelchair to pay a fee to ride an elevator or use a ramp to access a building. That is no different than asking my friend with low vision to just rely on their hearing to access a public space.
We must all hold ADA violators accountable by reporting non-compliance when we see it. You can file an ADA complaint alleging disability discrimination against a state or local government or a public accommodation, such as a restaurant, doctor’s office, retail store, hotel or, in my case, a government livestream page.
Take a Stand with Me
Hearing loss has forced me to rise up and confront the accessibility inequities that are currently posed by the Kansas House and Senate. I am inspired by the advocacy work of Gallaudet University students, who protested for a Deaf President Now in 1988 and succeeded in this quest when the first Deaf President, Dr. I. King Jordan, was appointed at Gallaudet, the only university in the world where students live and learn in American Sign Language (ASL) and English. To quote Dr. King Jordan, “The world has watched the Deaf community come of age. Together we’ve overcome our own reluctance to stand up for our own rights.”
It is time for all of us to stand up and advocate for the rights of those who are Deaf, hard of hearing, or have other disabilities. In my case, I am taking a stand against communication inaccessibility and requesting that all in-person and online live meetings and recorded videos be fully captioned, transcribed, and sign language interpreted.
The days of Lipreading Mom putting up with an inaccessible world are over. Take a stand with me to ensure ADA compliance of government and businesses. Tell me about your experiences in the comments.