Why I support Equal Communication Access

I live in an apartment building in a quiet central Massachusetts suburb, containing nine apartments. At the beginning of this summer, my neighbors from six of the nine apartments collaborated on a back yard cookout/birthday party for Silvio, who lives on the first floor with his wife. They invited me to attend. The group of Silvio’s friends was quite hospitable in offering me plenty to eat and checking occasionally to see that I had a full drink. Aside from that….well, everybody seemed to be enjoying the party, chatting and laughing with each other.

I, on the other hand, was just sitting back, observing, not understanding most of the conversations, or the humorous stories or jokes being told (I assume) that everyone was laughing over. After about an hour, I grew bored with this and tried to politely thank the hosts, wish the birthday boy well, and take my leave. Several members of the group insisted I stay, and one handed me another drink. Okay, I’m trying to be friendly with my neighbors as they’re a nice group of people (I’ve had some not-so-nice neighbors in the past), so I decided I’d stick it out for a while longer. By the end of the second hour I had had enough, I was growing frustrated and I just wanted to stand up and scream, “Why the hell do you people want me to stay if you’re not going to include me in the conversation!” Instead I waited until nobody was looking, snuck off to my car and drove to a friend’s house to wait out the remainder of the party before returning home for the night.

The reason I could not understand and join in the conversations is that most of my neighbors in my building are from Brazil, and they speak Portuguese. I was born & raised in New England and my first language is English. The kicker is, several of these neighbors have been studying in America for the last few years and have become quite fluent in English, and the others know at least enough English to effectively communicate with me. It just seems on this particular day, nobody was thinking to speak in English while sitting around me, or at least to have someone translate for me so that I could be included in the conversations and laugh along with them. I kept having to ask for someone to realize I didn’t have a clue what was going on, and after awhile, I got tired of asking. I was left feeling like a foreigner in my own back yard.

This experience reminded me a bit of a blog trilogy written by one of my dearest friends, Ms. Virginia Beach, entitled “Home for the Holidays”, in which she describes what it was like to be the only Deaf member in an all hearing family during holiday gatherings.

Virginia and I describe similar feelings of exclusion and frustration in our two stories, but there are a couple of differences.

I am hearing; Virginia is Deaf.

My neighbors can learn English (or I could learn Portuguese). Virginia can’t learn to hear.

No matter how fluent in the English language my friend is, she is always going to need captioning for watching movies and television, relay services for making telephone calls, and, in certain situations, a certified interpreter.

Simple things that I can enjoy with some of my hearing friends, things that many hearing people may take for granted, are not things I can share with my Deaf friends. For instance, if I wish to see a movie that just opened in the theatres with my friend Virginia…well, we’ll probably have to wait for it to be released on DVD, as there are few theaters that offer captioned movie showings. (None that I have found local to me.)

This is one of the many reasons that I support the Equal Communication Access Campaign, and why I have volunteered to be a judge for the Equal Communication Access Blogging/Vlogging Contest.

The reason I tell my story about the party above is that I feel that other hearing people who do not have any experience with Deaf people may be able to relate better to the situation I was in with my neighbors.

One big complaint I hear often from my hearing friends and acquaintances is that of the many immigrants who come to America and do not learn to effectively communicate in English…and/or that if they do know English, they will still speak to others in their native language even in a setting where the majority of people around them are English speaking.

And quite honestly, it irritates the heck outta me that America has become so accommodating for those who speak Spanish, but does not put accessibility for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Americans on the same priority level.

For those among the hearing who feel like they are a foreigner, an outsider, in their own communities for reasons much like I have described with my neighbors…imagine feeling like that at your own family’s holiday gatherings.

For those among the hearing community who feel that accessibility for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is not an issue that will ever affect or impact you personally, I leave you with the following:

I am in my mid 30’s and am experiencing a progressive hearing loss in one ear…so far it’s only one ear…but who knows what the future may bring. Ask my boss at work how often I ask her to repeat herself because I did not hear her instructions clearly. (Then ask me how annoyed I get sometimes in having to continually remind her to speak up when there’s background noise, or approach me from the other side if she wants me to hear what she’s saying.) More often these days I am utilizing closed captioning on my television so that I can understand programs without cranking the volume up to the highest setting and blasting everyone else out of the house.

My Mother has become extremely hard of hearing after undergoing several rounds of intensive chemotherapy for lymphoma cancer.

Equal Communication Access may very well become just as important to you or someone in your family.

9 thoughts on “Why I support Equal Communication Access

  1. Wow, good use of an all-too-often thing that happens around here. I have been with two Hispanics before, and they would talk to each other in Spanish, which I took to mean they didn’t want me hearing. Not only is that irritating, it’s just downright rude.

    As for relating that instance to Equal Communication Access, it totally made sense to me. Good post! For me, having Virginia as a friend has helped open my eyes to a world which I rarely thought about. This is something that needs to be addressed, and this country is falling behind in helping its’ own citizens.

  2. they shoud have captions so the deaf can understand whats going on. was wondering though how would that work with the raido??i resently seen a program were a texas ranger temporarly lost his hearing and the gave him a hand helt device that turned the spoken word inti wretten text buttt,

  3. I doubt that many deaf or hard of hearing people really bother with trying to listen to radio – radio is really something that you do need to have good hearing to really understand and enjoy. Television is visual, so deaf and hard of hearing people can see it with their eyes, and then the captions are an added bonus for us to understand the words, etc. that go along with what we are seeing.

    I’m not sure about any type of device that can actually turn spoken words into written text – I believe that I saw this same television program, and it is not that the device changes spoken word to text…it is basically a text telephone much like a pager that allows one to type something that appears on a screen for another person to read.

    As an example, I have a pager device myself. If Crystal wants to send me a message, she can do so…but she still has to type it to me thru her computer or her own text messaging program on her telephone – my pager cannot turn spoken word into written text.

    I know they are working on such technology and there are some programs that can do this, but I believe they are still fairly expensive and they are computer software programs, not intended for use on a handheld device.

    Modern technology is getting more and more sophisticated, but I think we still have a ways to go.

    The bigger problem is not whether or not we have the technology….it’s educating people to understand what deafness is all about, and what Equal Communication Access is all about, and why it is so important.

    For example, currently most video news on the internet are NOT captioned. The technology for doing so IS available…it is just that the news corporations (such as CNN, MSNBC, etc.) don’t want to be bothered with doing it.

    Many doctors, lawyers, businesses, etc…even government agencies don’t want to be bothered with having to provide sign language interpreters…mainly because they don’t want to have to pay for it. They complain that it costs too much. So what does that mean for me?

    Movie theaters don’t want to provide captioned films, because they say “it is too distracting for their hearing audiences, who complain because they don’t want to have to see those words on the movie screen.” So I have to go without access just because a bunch of hearing movie-goers bitched about having to see captions/subtitles?

    Until we can change attitudes, all the technology in the world isn’t going to do much good.

    That’s what the Equal Communication Access campaign is all about – educating people and hopefully through such education being able to change attitudes and gain support for the whole concept of access for all.

    (And if you haven’t submitted an entry for the contest, why not consider doing so today???)

  4. The people speaking a foreign language is a great analogy to what deaf and hoh people face daily. Thanks for supporting ECA

  5. Pingback: Clarification of the ECA Contest « Deaf Pagan Crossroads

  6. Thank you all for your comments!!!

    I think Ocean sums it up nicely in her comments as well. We need to change attitudes. We need to educate people as to what Equal Communication Access is, and why it is important, in order to gain the support we need to make Equal Communication Access happen.

    It is possible through awareness and education. And cooperation – we need to work together!

    I have an update related to my post above. Returning from walking my dog yesterday evening, a group of my Brazilian neighbors were sitting out at the picnic table in the back yard while grilling up some dinner. I stopped to chat with them. While there, one of the other neighbors came home from work and joined the group. He immediately started telling a story in their native language of Portuguese. They all started laughing. But before I even had the chance to roll my eyes thinking about the party earlier this summer, this man turned to me and re-told the story in English. It was indeed funny, and I was able to laugh along with my neighbors.

    Since the party that I told you all about above, I have spent a lot of time chatting with my neighbors…mostly Silvio and his wife with whom I have been helping with their English studies. (In turn they are teaching me a little Portuguese.) We talk about the differences in our cultures, answer questions for each other, and have learned a lot from each other.

    My Deaf friends have done the same with me, spending time with me to further educate me about the Deaf community and Deaf culture and assist me with my ASL studies.

    When we all work together – education, awareness, and effective communication is the result!

    Please join us in supporting Equal Communication Access for all!

  7. Pingback: ECA Blogging/Vlogging Contest Changes!!! « Deaf Pagan Crossroads

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