There's no big mystery about this when it comes to believing that an open communication regardless of the method used is key to help people with hearing loss feel comfortable and on equitable grounds with the rest of their hearing peers. There are millions of people who feel the same way as I do. There are a variety of niche areas of technologies and services today that provide the advantage to help people with their communication needs and access. Just because deaf and hard of hearing people who know sign language does not mean they will be able to understand completely what was said in an ASL performance any more than deaf and hard of hearing people with their hearing aids and cochlear implants will understand completely what was said in a spoken (speech) theater performance or movie. I am talking about the whole range of population of people with hearing loss in the United States numbering around 36 million people versus a certain but limited number of those who are deaf/hh and fluent in ASL (around 600,000).
Just because deaf and hard of people who are fluent or know sign language does not mean they prefer always a signed performance but also like to attend performances by hearing people such as music (rock, country, etc) band on stage with their lyrics, stage performances and just your everyday movie theater while providing captions. Both communication access using open captioning and sign language interpreters offer the best of both worlds.
Q.What about services for the deaf or those who are hearing disabled? What exactly is open captioning?
A.Open captioning uses a portable LED screen set up orchestra right or left, by the proscenium. It’s rarely on stage because we don’t want to disturb the artistic look of the show. It faces a particular side of the orchestra where we have made tickets available to people with hearing disabilities.
We also offer sign language interpretation, but it is of no help whatsoever to people who are not deaf. Where our department is growing is in providing open captioning because there’s such a demand for it.
Far too many people who don’t hear well are not going to admit it. The benefit of open captioning is that it’s passive assistance. It’s there and you can refer to it or not. You don’t have to identify yourself as having hearing loss. That’s very appealing.
Open captioning should be available to all regardless of the situation. You just never know who in the audience will need one. The same goes for Gallaudet University theater shows such as their recent Hamlet performance that was done in ASL and that all of their performances were voiced under the direction of Dr. Lindsey Snyder. But no open captioning for those who are new or weak on sign language and those who can hear Snyder's voice but would need assist with captioning. An ironic twist and a cruel but blatant discrimination against deaf/hh students and people who are relatively new or weak on sign language. A sign that Gallaudet University continues to be a closed society when it comes to having an open communication policy. One can still be in favor of sign language in an open society that advocates open communication but the converse cannot be true of those who are unwittingly in a closed society.People with hearing loss want to make use of any hearing they have. They will use assisted listening devices in conjunction with the open captioning so they can understand some or most of what is being said.
Each year Gallaudet University host this Jump Start program (formerly known as New Signers Program) to help incoming first year and transfer students improve their sign language skills. For them it is easier to improve on their expressive signing than receptive signing. Just because they attended the Jump Start program does not make them experts on ASL or will be able to understand everything that's being signed on stage for example the recent Hamlet performances in April. Many students are hard of hearing and can hear and understand a person speaking with his/her voice. Each person's receptive skills and understanding of the spoken word varies. Even after the first and second year at Gallaudet University does not mean students receptive skills will guarantee 100% understanding the signing of ASL such as ASL performances on stage. In fact, by not providing open captioning to the audience who fall between understanding some ASL to understanding some of the spoken word at a Hamlet play is violating ADA accommodation and Section 504 law. Students should be encouraged to file grievances for this transgression at Gallaudet University.
According to Section 504, and since Gallaudet University is a recipient of federal financial assistance, a post secondary institution has an obligation under to ensure accessibility to students with disabilities, including those with hearing loss and the need for communication accessibility.
II. Scope of GrievanceAny University student who believes that he or she has been subjected to discrimination on the basis of disability or has been denied access or accommodations required by law shall have the right to invoke this Grievance Procedure. In general, this Grievance Procedure is designed to address the following types of concerns:
- Disagreements or denials regarding requested services, accommodations, or modifications to University practices or requirements;
- Alleged inaccessibility of a University program or activity;
- Alleged harassment or discrimination on the basis of a disability; and
- Any other alleged violations of the ADA and/or Section 504.
An important responsibility of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is to eliminate discrimination on the basis of disability against students with disabilities. OCR receives numerous complaints and inquiries in the area of elementary and secondary education involving Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (Section 504). Most of these concern identification of students who are protected by Section 504 and the means to obtain an appropriate education for such students.
Section 504 is a federal law designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive Federal financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Section 504 provides: "No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States . . . shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance . . . ."
OCR enforces Section 504 in programs and activities that receive Federal financial assistance from ED. Recipients of this Federal financial assistance include public school districts, institutions of higher education, and other state and local education agencies. The regulations implementing Section 504 in the context of educational institutions appear at 34 C.F.R. Part 104.Services students should be able to request at Gallaudet University:
* American Sign Language Interpreter
* Signed English Interpreter (SEE-Signing Exact English or PSE-Pidgin Sign English)
* FM Systems and Conference Microphones
* Voice interpreter
* Remote Captioning
* Cued Speech Transiliterator
* Professional or Volunteer Notetakers
Even though Gallaudet University obviously supports ASL many are calling for the exclusive use of ASL for all or "ASL at all times." That'd be if only the educational institution in question was a private educational institution that receives no federal funding then it wouldn't fall under the rules of Section 504. But since Gallaudet University receives annual federal funding for as long as it has been opened it must abide by Section 504 laws. Section 504 gives the power over to students who may request communication accessibility other than ASL or voice.
Gallaudet University once again violates ADA law and Section 504 for not providing an alternative communication access for their signed ASL performances for students and people who still lack the necessary receptive skills to understand fully the signed ASL performances. Gallaudet University continues to be the living and breathing conundrum for deaf/hh students new to the world of sign language and they are unable to even enjoy and understand signed performances. Gallaudet University was willing to provide voiced support of their recent signed Hamlet performances but was unwilling to provide open captioning to those who are weak in signing and understanding the spoken words. But the irony is that Gallaudet University put up a Hamlet play when a cruel twist of fate usually happens in a Shakespeare play and this cruel twist of fate is the continued ignorance of deaf/hh students who are new or are in the middle of such worlds.
"This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man."
- William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1.3