This post comes out of my frustration as a disability advocate with the “city/district” where I live and its refusal to provide ASL interpreters during emergency situations to the Deaf and Hard of hearing community. Let’s not start with the fact that we are not a state, city, municipality, etc. That’s for a later post!
Why can’t the District of Columbia (DC) have an American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreter standing next to its Mayor for announcements, press conferences and emergency updates? It has been one of my goals since the “2010 Snowmagadden” when we had 10 days of snow and not one ASL interpreter or any closed captioning on the TV screen during the entire time.
I started disability advocacy as a profession in late 2009 and I learned about the importance of “effective communications” for all. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 covers accessibility in all areas of life for people with disabilities not just physical barriers such as ramps into buildings but also communications by government officials. Title II of the ADA states:
Title II applies to State and local government entities, and, in subtitle A, protects qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination on the basis of disability in services, programs, and activities provided by State and local government entities. Title II extends the prohibition on discrimination established by section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, 29 U.S.C. 794, to all activities of State and local governments regardless of whether these entities receive Federal financial assistance.
In basic terms this means that if government officials are preparing people for emergencies by providing information to the public they MUST provide this information for ALL in the format that is best for them. So if the Mayor and all other DC officials are telling me, a person without a disability, to prepare for the upcoming emergency then they have an obligation to tell my friends in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community the same.
The chaos that ensued after the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001 showed this county how ill prepared we are to assist many in situations of emergency. No other community suffered more than people with disabilities. The situation was no better for people with disabilities in New Orleans, LA in August of 2005 during Katrina, the most devastating hurricane of its time. We are just not where we should be in this area of preparedness, ask Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) who have been going around the county suing cities and winning, for their lack of emergency preparedness for persons with disabilities.
Here in DC we have had snow storms. Earthquakes, hurricanes, two major shootings that made us go into “shelter-and-stay” mode and multiple other emergency situations yet you never see our officials, the Mayor or the Chief of Police on TV with ASL Interpreters and few of the TV stations provide instant/automatic Closed Caption (CC) which is a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule (exemptions do apply). There are a few things wrong with this lack of outreach:
- The Deaf and Hard of hearing community are not being included in the distribution of this emergency information. Their lives are important.
- The ADA states we must do this for the Deaf and Hard of hearing.
3.DC has one of the largest Deaf and Hard of hearing communities in the country because Gallaudet University is located here. It is 125yrs old that is 5 generations of Deaf and Hard of hearing people who have come to DC for higher education. Many have stayed because they liked it here, they found their love, they started their families, they have employment and they are a huge part of the fabric of our lives here in the District.
- NYC, Boston and NY State and MA state leaders have been on TV with ASL Interpreters and if these places can do this why can’t DC? Boston learned its lesson after the Boston bombing in 2013 when they did NOT have this service. Friday, April 19, 2013 they had the firefight and manhunt. They shut down the city and surrounding areas; they had “shelter-and-stay” mode yet they had no ASL Interpreters on the TV nor did they have CC going across the screen. Boston advocates rose up and created a conversation with officials that has turned into ASL Interpreters standing with Mayor Marty Walsh this past month at all of his TV press conferences on snow storm emergencies.
Full disclosure, I have tried to have DC Mayor and Chief of Police have ASL Interpreters when they are on TV for emergencies in the District multiple times. As an advocate who works on a national level, I have been in multiple meetings with DC officials on many issues and I constantly bring this up in almost every conversation I have with any of them. I worked in the DC Government Office of Disability Rights for almost a year and could not get this done.
I spoke with the then candidate Muriel Bowser about this and hoped that she would do this. I have spoken to DC Council members about this concern and now I take it to social media for this request.
Tonight it is snowing here in DC and of course the Mayor held a press conference to give emergency information about the next few days and what to do in the snowstorm, with no ASL Interpreter and no CC on the TV. So I went to Twitter and tweeted a local news person and multiple members of the DC Council. It was great to see all the RT’s, FAVs and inquiries about why this is not happening in the District. I even had a “twitter chat” with a local Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC) who is going to inquire about this issue with the Mayor. The Twitter thread had over 50 hits! DC residents sure find this interesting, appalling and would like to see ASL Interpreters on TV with our District officials.
YouTube link to Mayor Bowser’s press conference on Snow Storm February 16, 2015: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNfsDIeCZEk
I remain hopeful that Mayor Bowser will do this for the District. Stay tuned and don’t forget to pass the word!
Thanks for reading, please leave comments and tell all about The WIYATT!
ADA –Department of Justice Civil Rights section http://www.ada.gov/index.html
DRA – http://www.dralegal.org
FCC – rules on Closed Captioning http://www.fcc.gov/guides/closed-captioning
Gallaudet University – http://www.gallaudet.edu