Making political events accessible to those with special needs

Mary Dyer is challenging Iowa’s political establishment to be more inclusive toward those who need hearing assistance but do not use sign language. -promoted by desmoinesdem

It was with mixed feelings that I just read about the picnic where a number of Democratic gubernatorial candidates met 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 any attention was given to those with hearing loss who would have had trouble hearing what was 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.

While some of the larger ones have had sign language interpreters, the general–albeit mistaken–understanding is that by having interpreters, the needs of ALL those with hearing loss are being taken care of.

Not so. For every person who may be able to use ASL, there are 40 more of us who rely on hearing assistance, not sign language. 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. Last week I had the opportunity to meet with Democratic candidate for governor Nate Boulton and with executive director Kevin Geiken at the Iowa Democratic Party headquarters, to discuss my “Accessibility Pledge.” I also tried to contact the Republican state party, but to date have gotten no response.

This is not a partisan issue, but a non-partisan issue, so I hope this opinion piece can generate some conversation and a change in how we welcome – or don’t welcome by de facto exclusion – people to our events.

Here is the pledge I drafted.

To Candidates Running for State and National Office:

We are working hard to support the inclusion of all Iowans 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 both those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, along with those in wheelchairs, etc., have the right to be able to be fully included in participatory democracy.

I assume that people from all parties, in theory, might support this pledge, but I also drafted a list of how to make that happen, so that the pledge doesn’t just become another piece of unfulfilled campaign rhetoric:

Ensuring All Constituents Have Access to Meetings, Events

· Have someone on staff designated as accessibility person.

· When choosing sites for meetings, check out their accessibility– including both mobility access (e.g., wheelchairs, ramps, etc.) AND ALSO hearing access.

· If there is one venue that has assistive listening, in particular an installed hearing loop, favor it over those without appropriate accommodations.

· Questions to ask venue:
1. Does venue have a public address system?
2. Will it be available to use?
3. Does it have any assistive listening?
4. What kind?
5. 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 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 in the state of Iowa? Speak up – loud and clear. Remember, I have hearing loss, so it will take a bit more effort. I am worth it, and so are thousands of others with hearing loss, as well as those who are barred from physical access. Let us begin.

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 (www.hasloops.com) to bring this about through both education and advocacy around hearing loss and installing hearing loops to help those with hearing loss hear more clearly in both public and private settings.

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