OTHER VOICES: Advocate for deaf and hard-of-hearing

By Rachel Farbman
As an individual who grew up deaf and using American Sign Language, Andrew Phillips cares greatly about his rights to communication access. Be it closed captioning on television or sign language interpreters in schools, he has always felt strongly about advocating for deaf and hard-of-hearing rights.
Phillips, a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, first got involved with the disability rights movement while a student at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., where he studied government. The opportunities he was afforded while attending Gallaudet inspired him to pursue a law degree at the Hastings College of the Law, University of California, in San Francisco, Calif. About two and a half years ago, Phillips joined the National Association of the Deaf as their policy counsel. He has brought the NAD’s policy work before the Federal Communications Commission, Department of Justice, U.S. Copyright Office, Department of Transportation, Transportation Security Administration, and other federal agencies.
According to the NAD, there are approximately 48 million deaf and hard-of-hearing people in the United States. Thanks to the efforts of the NAD and disability community leaders, the number of laws in place to improve access for people who are deaf and hard of hearing, including the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, Telecommunications Act of 1996, Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990, and Rehabilitation Act of 1973, have increased access to CART and captioning tremendously over the last decade.
“I see a lot of growth for the captioning of online-only programs. We are seeing more and more programs available online that have never been shown on TV with captions or even been captioned for theater showings or discs,” said Phillips. “The amount of video content online has exploded and hopefully these video programming providers will want to provide more access to their content.”
“The biggest change I have seen (since joining the NAD) is in access to online video programming,” said Phillips. “The CVAA passed in 2010, and I have been very involved with online video programming related rulemakings at the FCC, and at the same time, the NAD has been working with online video providers to get them to caption more of their content.”
On July 25, 2013, the White House celebrated the 23rd anniversary of the ADA. They honored Phillips along with seven other young leaders in the disability community as Champions of Change for their advocacy efforts and ground-breaking projects.
“I’m tremendously honored by this recognition and really appreciated the opportunity to share about the work that I am doing with the NAD,” Phillips said.
In his work, Phillips has crossed paths on numerous occasions with NCRA and said that he believes the NAD has a great relationship with the association, as both organizations share the same values for improving disability access through captions, as well as the need for captioning quality standards.
“Captioning quality is a big issue for deaf and hard-of-hearing people, whether it’s closed captions on television or with CART services,” Phillips said. “The NCRA’s work in expanding access to quality captioning is very important.”
An avid the fan of the San Francisco 49ers and the San Francisco Giants, Phillips enjoys watching sports on television and personally benefits from live captioning. He encourages NCRA to continue working closely with national deaf and hard-of-hearing organizations, such as the NAD, in pushing for captioning quality standards on television.
“The quality of captioning on television makes a big difference in how much of a program deaf and hard-of-hearing people can understand. Poor quality captioning results in misunderstandings and missed information,” Phillips explained. “We want to see skilled captionists, such as those with training and experience, being used to caption television programs, especially live programs. Quality captionists usually mean quality captions.”
Rachel Farbman is NCRA’s [title].

Denver resident asks for sign-language, closed captioning during emergencies

Following the fires in Denver in June, Monument, Colo., resident Walter Von- Feldt called for increased use of sign language and closed captioning for people with hearing impairments during emergencies, according to a June 18 article in the Denver Post. VonFeldt told the paper that the images on the TV screen left him uncertain whether he should evacuate during the fires.

California student fights for CART as accommodation

The San Diego, Calif., ABC affiliate, 10News, reported that a Poway High School senior who is hearing impaired is suing the Poway Unified School District for not providing CART for her classes. According to the news report, the student, Delanie Harrington, and her parents requested CART as an accommodation before she was even a freshman at the school. Three years later, they continue to fight for assistance for her.

An earlier lawsuit ruled that the school district did not have to provide such accommodations for Harrington; however, the Ninth Circuit Court of appeals recently remanded a portion of the case back to theFederal District Court for further analysis of what the school districts are required to provide students under the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to a statement by the school district.

“Since instantaneous translation first became a reality for court reporters in the 1970s, NCRA members have been on the forefront of providing greater access to public events and services for people with hearing loss,” says Adam Finkel, NCRA’s assistant director of government relations. “We will continue to work with deaf and hard-of-hearing groups to pursue equal access for all Americans.”

CART bill signed by the Governor of Rhode Island

On July 11, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed into law legislation that requires a CART provider or interpreter for all court cases where a party or a witness is deaf or hard-of-hearing. The new law makes Rhode Island’s court system among the nation’s most accessible for the deaf or hard-of-hearing. NCRA commends the Rhode Island Legislature for passing this law which will take effect on July 1, 2014.

Read the bill’s text.

Don’t let fear rob you

This morning, I was sitting in church waiting for the 8 a.m. service to begin when I noticed two women walk past me down the aisle and sit in front of the LCD monitor. I thought to myself, “I sure hope they don’t expect to see CART because I only provide that for the 9:30 a.m. service. I’m not ready; I’ve only warmed up by wrapping my hands around a hot cup of coffee.”

I practice writing the 8 a.m. sermon, stopping to brief a recurring word or phrase or to jot down an unfamiliar word that I will Google in between services. If there is an emotional testimony, I may just sit back and take it in before I start writing again.

I walked down to the two women, smiled, and introduced myself. I asked if they were expecting to use the text on the screen as an accommodation to hear the service. Terry and Debby, who I found out were mother and daughter, returned my smile and said yes. I found myself apologizing that I didn’t normally provide CART for the 8 a.m. service and explaining that it would be better for them to attend the next. But then I stopped. What on earth was I thinking? What is the purpose of my captioning ministry anyway? It’s to make the word of God accessible. Why would I deny anyone that? I love this ministry. When did fear start robbing me of what I love to do?

I thought back to the spring of 1987. I had recently moved back to Wisconsin after graduating from a court reporting school in California. A job offer was posted for a secretary/stenographer with realtime skills to work for the Honorable Judge Richard S. Brown in the Court of Appeals. I jumped at the opportunity. I had a good feeling I had passed the Wisconsin State CPR (Certified Professional Reporter) exam required to work in state courts and was awaiting results, but I was nervous, maybe even terrified; however, I wasn’t going to let fear stop me from an incredible job opportunity.

I had no previous experience. I had no computer system, no dictionary, as I was still typing from my paper notes using my manual steno machine. What I lacked in experience and skill, I made up for in sheer determination and willingness to learn. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t do it. I just needed the opportunity. I don’t remember much about the actual interview, but it must have gone well because later that same day, I received a phone call offering me the position.

I was elated! I wasted no time finding a computer system and spending every spare minute building my dictionary. Although I considered myself a clean writer, I needed to be realtime ready. You see, Judge Brown is deaf. I needed to be able to write realtime for oral arguments in the courtroom and judicial conference calls in chambers utilizing the speaker phone.

So why this morning, after years of experience, did I almost allow fear to hinder the purpose of my captioning ministry? Fear can impede our growth if we are obsessed with what others may think of us. If our focus is on ourselves and our glory, we don’t see the glory of God working through us as His messenger to reach out to others.

Fear can also cause us to refuse to embrace change because we would rather be comfortable. If we become complacent in our work, it will lead to dissatisfaction, feeling unfulfilled, and eventual burnout. Eugene O’Neill said, “A man’s work is in danger of deteriorating when he thinks he has found the one best formula for doing it. If he thinks that, he is likely to feel that all he needs is merely to go on repeating himself . . . so long as a person is searching for better ways of doing his work, he is fairly safe.”

There are online tools, classes, and webinars that are fantastic resources. In the comfort of my home, away from distractions, I set aside time to take a course and practice. The most difficult part is just making yourself sit down and begin, but you’ll be amazed at how quickly you become engaged and how fun it is, especially when you see the improvement in your skills.

There is also a tremendous benefit in attending onsite workshops and conventions. You will come away with an immense amount of information, education, and training in a short period of time. It is rejuvenating to interact with peers giving and receiving support and sharing what works. Having several vendors at one location is a time saver, assisting you in making informed decisions on your wants and needs.

Contact your church or any local church, and ask if you can set up your equipment to practice for yourself. Search out sermons on TV or on the Web. My church has sermon videos to watch and downloads available in video and audio format on its home page at www.elmbrook. org.

Edmund Burke once said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing.” Have you ever watched babies learning to walk? They take a step and down they go. They get up and take another step or two and down they go. Never do they look discouraged. Never do they give up. They just get up and take another step forward, and before you know it, they’re running.

You don’t think there were days in court when I cringed at my untranslates or word boundary issues? Absolutely. But I got up, dusted off my ego, and kept working hard, always moving forward.

Don’t let fear rob you of your aspirations. Don’t let your fear deny others the opportunity to “hear” the word of God. Take that first baby step toward making it happen.

After the sermon this morning, Terry, Debby, and I had a chance to talk. They thanked me and gave me a hug, saying they truly appreciated the CART and would be back next week. I look forward to seeing them; and if they happen to come for the 8 a.m. service, that will be just fine.

Best Hearing Ever

As CART providers, our job is to provide communication access. Will we ever truly understand what it’s like to be in our consumer’s shoes? That depends on our own hearing levels later in life, I suppose. I personally believe it’s important to at least try. Nancy Otte is a hearing itinerant teacher in Scottsdale, Ariz., and she is hearing-impaired herself.

For Mother’s Day this year, she attended her first captioned theatrical production of “RED” in Phoenix. After seeing the play, she said, “It was a rather erudite play with only two characters and all philosophical exchange. Naturally, without captioning, it would have been impossible. I was so excited throughout that I almost couldn’t breathe. Being three weeks shy of 65, that was an amazing experience to have for the first time. I can’t tell you what a thrill it was.”

Nancy shared with me her perspective on hearing with new hearing aids. The following is her story.

What I Hear

“You’re hearing, it seems, almost at cochlear implant level!” exclaimed my husband, Jim, this week after 42 years of marriage. Because cochlear implants were unavailable when I was a child, and now being the age that I am, my brain will not hear better with a cochlear implant than with a hearing aid, given the most current information from cochlear implant physicians, unless I lose the little hearing I have left.

It has been four months since I acquired the newest and best hearing aids of my life. There were numerous adjustments until I could hear many things at all. Between adjustments and the brain needing to be trained to hear a different way with the newer technology, it took me four months to adjust, and four months is the fastest acclimation time ever achieved. In years past, an equal acquisition of new skills took between one and four years.

What can I hear with hearing aids now that I couldn’t hear before? A partial list, but off the top of my head:

  • More birds outdoors instead of an occasional one bird, and sometimes I can localize where the birds are in general direction.
  • The sound of my dog drinking water, although I wouldn’t know it if I weren’t looking at him and timing the sounds with the protrusion of his tongue lapping the water.
  • My husband’s fingernails scratching fabric approximately one foot away from me with no other noise in the environment.
  • Every vowel of a person speaking to me in a quiet environment from within five feet. If a person says one consonant alone, such as “buh, buh, buh” for “b,” I can hear the “b” or “d” or whatever is being said, but I still need to speechread to tell the difference between “b” or “d,” for example. “Nancy” sounds like “a-ee” and could be “banshee” as well as “Nancy,” for all I know, without speechreading.
  • The phone ringing from 30 feet away if the house is quiet, with no other noise.
  • More environmental sounds, such as a clock ticking, an air conditioner clicking on, a door clicking open or closed, or music being played in the background of a roomful of people talking.

What I Can’t Hear

What do I still not understand through the ear with hearing aids on?

  • The words of a person who is not facing me, whether within 10 feet in a quiet environment or in a lecture situation where only the lecturer is speaking. If the lecturer turns his or her back or turns sideways, the lecturer’s words become undecipherable.
  • Television without captioning.
  • Movies without captioning.
  • Plays without captioning.
  • Some people’s speech on the telephone without captioning.
  • Many unidentified sounds. A leaf blower could be a pipe organ.
  • The speech of people in a group of more than four or five, unless only one person is talking and that person is facing me.

Blocking of facetime app hurts the deaf

In an article published on wired.com, author Brendan Gramer states that Apple will enable iPhone’s FaceTime app to work over mobile connections. However, Gramer found out and mentions that AT&T will block mobile FaceTime unless customers sign up for an expensive unlimited voice plan.

Source: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/09/facetime-deaf/

Theatre includes open captioning for performances

Geva Theatre in Rochester, N.Y., will partner with two groups to expand and improve services for patrons with hearing loss, according to an August 3, 2012, report on 13WHAM. Open captioning will be displayed on the side of the stage. The theater will provide open captioning for its six productions of the 2012-2013 Mainstage Season.

Source: http://www.13wham.com/news/ local/story/geva/1TkTYXWul0qw6MwTzNUBPA.cspx

Caption First announces call center serving deaf and hard-of-hearing consumers

Caption First announced a new service: Through the use of realtime text, millions of people with hearing loss will have the ability to com- fortably make and receive telephone calls on mobile devices. The services were anticipated to launch in September 2012, following approval by the Federal Communications Commission.

Patricia Graves, founder and president of Caption First, notes, “I am very excited about this service. It will allow individuals with hearing loss who speak for themselves the ability to seamessly use a mobile device.”

This new career opportunity as a Communication Assistant will ben- efit stenographic graduates as well as those realtime reporters who desire to have set hours and no transcript responsibilities. All CAs will be encouraged to become certified, leading them to the grow- ing opportunities in the fields of CART providing and captioning.

The first call center will be located in Glen Ellyn, Ill., with additional centers opening across the nation over time.

For more information, please contact Pat Graves at Pat.Graves@captionfirst.com or by calling 719-481-9834.

Washington watch

NCRA promotes hearing health rights

In late July, NCRA, through the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Alliance, submitted letters to all U.S. Senators, asking for their support in ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The United Nations adopted the CRPD in 2006. Taking one of the most significant steps to date to help promote and ensure disability rights globally, the CRPD is the first international treaty to protect disability rights on a global scale and establish a standard to help people with disabilities participate in society.

Like all treaties, the CRPD requires 67 senators to vote in favor of ratification. The treaty passed out of the Senate’s Foreign Relations committee by a vote of 13- 6. The treaty requires the following provisions from all countries that have ratified it:

  • Non-discrimination against individuals with disabilities;
  • Allowing individuals with disabilities full and effective participation and inclusion in society;
  • Respect for differences and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity; and
  • Equality of opportunity for individuals with disabilities.

In July 2009, the United States signed the CRPD, becoming the 142nd country to sign on in support. Today, 153 countries have signed on to the treaty and 112 of those have ratified the treaty, including key United States alliances such as Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, South Korea, and many European nations. The Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Alliance is a coalition that consists of organizations with a strong interest in promoting public policy and education on issues affecting the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities. NCRA is a current member of the DHHA. NCRA stands ready to work with the United States Senate to ratify the CRPD. Please contact NCRA’s Government Relations Department (govrelations@ncra.org) with any questions.


On September 11, 2012, the Local Court house Safety Act of 2012 cleared a critical hurdle by passing out of the House of Representatives. The legislation still must pass the United States Senate and be signed by President Obama in order to become law. If it is passed into law, the Local Courthouse Safety Act will allow courthouses to receive unused security equipment like metal detectors, wands, and baggage screeners from federal agencies. It will also allow courthouses to allocate existing federal funding toward security training for court personnel. Essentially, this law strengthens security at courthouses around the country and provides excess equipment to help local security personnel better do their jobs.

The Local Courthouse Safety Act previously passed out of the House and Senate Judiciary Committee’s with bipartisan support and little opposition.

NCRA’s Government Relations Department has taken an active role with members of Congress in promoting the importance of this vital piece of legislation and will continue to do so over the coming months until the bill is signed into law. NCRA appreciates the leadership and hard work done by the initial sponsors of the legislation, Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota and Rep. Sandy Adams of Florida.

NCRA is committed to seeing this important legislation progress, and our Government Relations team is working closely with the Senate to get this legislation passed.

For more information on the Local Courthouse Safety Act of 2012, contact NCRA’s Government Relations Department (govrelations@ncra.org) with any questions.


NCRA is pleased to announce the release of Courting Disaster, the first online learning game designed to simulate the unique challenges that court reporters face every day. The game will be free to play and will offer a one-of-a-kind interactive learning experience for court reporters, students, and anyone interested in the reporting profession.

Reporters will have the option to claim CEU credit by purchasing a follow-up e-seminar that explores the issues encountered in the game in more detail. Check out Courting Disaster—it will be the most fun you’ve ever had learning! Visit www.ncra.org/courtingdisaster to play the game.