CHRISTIAN:Did you know that only a few states in the U.S. provide live captioning during State committee hearings? This means that those who are Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing who want to watch are lacking accessibility. Now, one state is working to change that. Arizona, has announced that they will be providing accessibility in that respect. We reached out to the organization responsible for this achievement.
SHERRI: I’m Sherri Collins, the Executive Director of Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
CHRISTIAN:Hi Sherri, welcome. So, legislative sessions will now be captioned using RCC. What does that mean exactly?
SHERRI: Relay Conference Captioning (RCC) is the set-up we use for captioning during legislative sessions. That was achieved through our contracted service provided by Arizona Relay Service. RCC is an optional service that is not required by the FCC. The state of Arizona provides that service that is not just limited to legislative sessions, but also accessibility for those who want to participate in conference calls or captioning.
CHRISTIAN:Would you mind expanding a bit on the problems that tend to pop up with accessibility these days?
SHERRI: People could just watch from their iphone, ipads, smartphones, desktop computers at home, anywhere but there is no captioning or accessibility. We are used to watching TV with captioning, but inside those legislative sessions, we don’t have the same accessibility. If you are not there in person, for example, why not propose using captioning service that is already provided by the RCC? It is already free and doesn’t cost the Legislators anything. It was a win-win situation for everyone.
CHRISTIAN:So what does this mean for the Deaf, hard-of-hearing and DeafBlind communities of Arizona, and perhaps even the country at large?
SHERRI: Now, we are fully accessible for the Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities. Interpreters are readily available upon request if you go in person, but now anyone can watch those sessions from the North or South side of Arizona. No more long commutes to participate in the legislative processes.
CHRISTIAN:How did your organization work to convince legislators to make this change?
SHERRI: Several legislators have some form of hearing loss who could benefit from this. They didn’t know about the technology. Once they were aware, they became more involved. There was one hard of hearing legislator who wasn’t very involved and had limited understanding of the process, now, since he started using the looping system he is much more involved.
CHRISTIAN:Thank you for your time explaining RCC. From your experience and advocacy with the Deaf community, is there any advice you can offer when it comes to getting involved in the legislative process?
SHERRI: The first thing to keep in mind is to build relationships. Also, education...many people are not familiar or aware of our issues. It is not that they don’t want to support us. They don’t understand our issues. We have to educate, educate and educate. Take action before issues arise. Become friends with many. Including decision-makers, not just legislators, but also those who could play a part in the systematic change. Leadership. Different agencies or departments. Wherever a problem arises, connect with the right players. For political and community activism, spend time at the State Capital and meeting your local representatives. Introduce yourselves. Keep in mind that your vote DOES matter. Out of many, 1 person can make a big difference so introduce yourselves to your legislators and also host events at the Capitol building. It doesn’t have to be a protest but it can raise awareness and say “This is who we are. The Deaf and hard-of-hearing. Meet us at our events.” We have done it several times and it is very effective.