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Accessibility Advocacy CART (live captioning) Hard of Hearing Hearing Loss State Agencies

State Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services

According to the National Association of State Agencies of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (NASADHH), there are approximately 38 state agencies of the deaf and hard of hearing (HoH). If your state is missing in the roster linked above, try finding information through your state’s Rehabilitation Services (aka Vocational Rehabilitation) or Labor/Careerforce/Workforce offices.

The above graphic is a sampling of where services for the HoH and deaf reside in state government—Departments on Aging, Children & Families, Civil Rights, Disabilities & Communication Access, Economic Opportunity & Security, Health & Human Services, Independent Living, Industry, Long Term Support, and Social Services—and it is no wonder information can be hard to find.

Looking further at the NASADHH website, their organization has identified a need for a national database of information and a heightened public awareness of services, and are working toward that goal.

Also, information and services relevant to HoH needs and accommodations can sometimes only be found by navigating through multiple content layers of a state’s website. If the HoH see information relevant only to someone in Deaf culture and ASL Interpretation on the website’s homepage, likely they get the impression there are no services available to them. And, because they are not a part of Deaf culture, and do not know or use sign language, they leave. That is a factor in the HoH being underserved.

Random examples of state website homepages:

Homepage: West Virginia’s state website (https://dhhr.wv.gov/cdhh/Pages/default.aspx). No information about CART services or HoH needs; appear to only offer Deaf services.
Homepage: Rhode Island’s state website (http://www.cdhh.ri.gov/). Equal focus on Interpreter & CART services; appear to offer both Deaf and HoH services.

HoH people comprise over 95 percent of those with disabling hearing loss. They communicate, live, work, and socialize in the hearing world, in a spoken language they are fluent in. They need accommodations in their language.

JULIA: What do you know about your state services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing? State services are your tax dollars at work. Be sure to take advantage of these services. 

  • Do you know who the HoH Specialist is?
  • Do they have an Advisory Council that you could join and learn more about your state services for Hard of Hearing individuals?
  • Which state department funds them? 
  • If you needed a list of CART or live captioning companies, would your state agency be able to provide one? 
    • And if not, are you right now looking up your next state legislation meeting? 
  • Do you have a local HLAA (Hearing Loss Association of America) chapter who might lobby with you? 
  • How can you make a difference for HoH needs in your state?

If you can answer these questions, HOORAY!!! If you can’t, I hope it prompts you to find out more. Chelle Wyatt is one person and she made a huge difference in the thought process at a state level by showing one size does not fit most.

Even if you don’t live in the same city as the state office, send an email to the HoH specialist and ask what might be available in your area. Advisory Council meetings are often online, so you can join from anywhere in your state and help make a difference. Reach out, we can make a difference.

MICHELE: I found out about the DHHSD (Deaf and Hard of Hearing Division) through my CareerForce (formerly WorkForce) office after moving to Minnesota in 2006. They suggested I contact DHHSD—I had never heard of them—to partner with should any employer express concern regarding my hearing loss. I remember wondering why none of my audiologists had ever mentioned that there are state agencies that serve the HoH and deaf? At the end of every unsuccessful hearing aid trial, I was desperate for additional help and information, but they had no answers for me.

I met with the local DHHSD director, who is culturally Deaf, and received some helpful information about captioned telephones and mobile CapTel. I was also assured their office would indeed serve as a co-advocate with prospective employers if the need arose.

What wasn’t helpful was the lecture I received for referring to myself as “Hearing Impaired”, or the invitation to the monthly pizza night where only sign language was spoken, followed by “Most HoH people only come once; they have no way to communicate.” 

I did not learn about CART from DHHSD and was given some material on learning sign language.

My initial impression was that their services were more focused on Deaf culture and sign language, which is not my experience. My fitting into Deaf culture seemed more important than their meeting my needs as a lipreader, English speaker, and captioning consumer. I’ve learned more from my tribe of HoH peers than from my state agency or audiologists.

In early 2018, I volunteered as a delegate for my state political party and requested CART for the March convention. The local convention organizer contacted DHHSD for assistance after the remote CART provider recommended an on-site provider would be a better fit for a political convention. What they (the same culturally Deaf director) advised demonstrated how misinformed they are about CART and CART providers, and that they clearly need to be more knowledgeable about HoH needs and accommodations.

In 2020, the VRS (Vocational Rehabilitation Services) placement coordinator I was working with asked if I needed a sign language interpreter for our meeting. It was an opportunity to inform about how vast the HoH community is (18% of the population), my needs as a lipreader, and to educate about CART and captioning. To his credit, my VRS person was not okay with being knowledgeable about Deaf culture, but having no idea about the HoH community. Assuming the same was true for his co-workers, he encouraged me to submit a workshop proposal for that year’s upcoming Health & Human Services Conference in our county, which I did. That workshop was the basis for the One Size Does Not Fit All workshop that Hearing Loss LIVE! plans to offer in the future.

CHELLE: In 2009, after a big drop in hearing and a life change in moving to Salt Lake City, I discovered our state agency while looking for the local HLAA chapter who happened to meet there. The Utah Division of Services of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DSDHH) had classes for hearing loss and I took them all, anything to learn how to live better with hearing loss. Every time I walked through those doors for a Hard of Hearing event, I felt the burden of communication dropped off my shoulders. These were my people, my tribe. 

I like to joke that I was around there so much, they finally hired me in 2012 as a Hard of Hearing Assistant for statewide services. I loved reaching more people and helping others deal with their hearing loss better. I worked 5 years as HoH Assistant and then 3 more years as a HoH Specialist, the first not to be fluent in American Sign Language (ASL).

Though I loved what I did, working in the “Deaf Center”, as it was often called, had some challenges. As the HoH specialist, I began to remind people that it was the Deaf AND Hard of Hearing Center. It was hard for people to change that habit, the Deaf community started services years ago. The Hard of Hearing portion came later with the Hard of Hearing Specialist job, classes and presentations. The ‘new’ office building was dedicated as the Sanderson Community Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. After reminding enough people, they started saying the Sanderson Center instead. I wanted to make sure the HoH felt included and they knew it was their center too. 

While there, I learned enough sign language to get by but did not become fluent. I’m Hard of Hearing. I speak English and read English. I use lipreading and CART. I was the Hard of Hearing Specialist and I wanted to represent the majority of the community I belonged to. It was my job to make Hard of Hearing communication needs known which included requesting CART at outside events, something that hadn’t been done much before me. 

Most of my Deaf coworkers respected me though a few were resentful that I did not become fluent in ASL.This is the Deaf AND Hard of Hearing Center, I think a mutual respect is needed and that was my goal. I did serve the Hard of Hearing community well and brought in a record attendance and gave CART more recognition on the state level.

AREAS THAT WARRANT IMPROVEMENT: The majority of state agencies that serve the HoH and Deaf require their employees to be fluent in ASL, which disqualifies some of the most knowledgeable and talented people to help the HoH. That needs to change.

It is important that state agencies give equal billing to HoH needs and accommodations. CART should not continue to be a well-kept secret. CART for the HoH is exactly the same as ASL Interpretation for the Deaf. Both are considered reasonable communication access accommodations by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Go to your state’s website and look around. If you can’t easily find information relevant to HoH needs and CART, contact them and give them some thoughtful feedback and ask for what you need. The HoH community will remain underserved until they become more involved in getting the same level of service as the Deaf community. We should look to the Deaf community as a model for our own movement.

Unfortunately, the HoH most often learn about state agencies, and the services they provide, from their own internet search, referrals from Work/Career Force offices, peers, or by accident. State Agencies must do a better job of finding ways to reach the HoH and offering services equal to those offered for the Deaf.

Categories
Accessibility ASR (Automatic Speech Recognition) Captioning CART (live captioning) Hard of Hearing Hearing Loss Hearing Technology Stenographers

InnoCaption Services

It is our extreme pleasure to welcome Cristina Duarte, Senior Director of Regulatory Affairs & In-House Counsel of InnoCaption, as our guest this week! Cristina has a pretty impressive title, but it doesn’t describe all that she does at InnoCaption. When speaking with Cristina, it is her passion and commitment to a company that holds a deep personal connection for her that comes through. She loves connecting with customers and helping the Hard of Hearing (HoH) and deaf improve their lives by broadening their ability to communicate.

CRISTINA: As soon as I could speak, I took charge of answering the phone in our house. I was so proud every time I would answer and say in my most adult voice “Duarte residence, Cristina speaking, how can I help you?” Both of my parents were born with profound hearing loss and the phone was always challenging for them. Fast forward about 12 years, I was the only kid in my high school with a two way pager – which was incredibly cool – because it was the only way I could get a hold of my parents and fully communicate with them when they were out of the house. My father, an audio visual engineer who specialized in accessible solutions, frequently traveled and called me to test out new technologies he encountered while on the road. It was a normal occurrence for me as a young adult to get a call from a random number and hear – “Hi Cristina, it’s Dad! Just trying out something new and want to see how it does.” Every single time there would be some part of the solution which fell short of expectations, whether it was the speed, accuracy, sound quality or compatibility. I remember the first time my father called me using the InnoCaption app – I can honestly say it was the first phone conversation I had EVER had with them that it was like I was talking to a hearing person. At the time, the technology was still pending approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – but we both knew it was going to be life changing.

Fast forward to today, I have had the opportunity to be a part of InnoCaption for seven years and am incredibly proud of how far we have come. We are still the only company to offer our users captioning provided by stenographers and have added the ability to use automatic speech recognition (ASR) as well. Instead of imposing our own views on which captioning technology best meets our users’ needs, we empower our users by giving them full control with the ability to switch between a stenographer or ASR captions at the press of a button, before or even during a call. We listen to the community and our users – which has resulted in some really awesome features. A few of my favorites, and how they came about, are:

Caller ID Selection: This feature allows our user to choose between whether outgoing calls from their InnoCaption show as their InnoCaption number; their regular cell phone number; or blocked. We implemented this feature after receiving requests from deaf and hard of hearing doctors who wanted to use their cellphones to call patients, but did not want to provide the patients with their personal numbers. They explained that their hearing peers were able to do this, and they wanted to be able to as well. Shortly thereafter we launched the Caller ID Selection solution!

DeskView: At the beginning of the pandemic so many were forced into remote work environments without accessibility. I remember hearing from users who explained that they did not need accommodations in person, but as soon as their work shifted to the phone or video conferences, they were really struggling. In the beginning, we had many users dialing in to video conferencing platforms from their mobile devices and relying on the captioning. The feedback from that time that I remember best, is someone describing the feeling of looking between their computer screen and mobile device trying to keep up as “whip-lash” inducing. To address this, our team rolled out Deskview, which is a browser based InnoCaption feature which allows users to either mirror the captions from their mobile device to their computer OR now users can call directly from the browser eliminating the need for the mobile device. This empowers the user to have control of the captions on the same screen as their video conferencing – our users were thrilled!

Dyslexic Font: At some point last year, I received a message from a long time InnoCaption user sharing that they were dyslexic and there were dyslexic friendly fonts which would enhance the ease of reading and comprehension for them. Our engineering team was able to implement a dyslectic font customization within the app – and now we are even more accessible.

I could share so many stories behind the features we have released and why – but that would take quite some time. Instead I share the ones above as examples of the changes that have been made as a direct result of feedback from community members. I love what we have been able to do together working alongside the community. Honestly, my favorite part of my job is having the opportunity to connect with users and hear their experiences. I am beyond proud of what has been accomplished to date and I cannot wait to see what the future holds.

CHELLE: The phone was such a big source of anxiety for me that in 2009 I quit using it. There’s no lipreading on phones, all I get is a voice which for me is missing many consonants in speech. Trying to piece together the missing sounds of speech without any visuals was pure hell. I lost a few friends who would not convert to text or email, that hurt.

Caption phones came along around 2012 and I had so much anxiety with phones it was a last resort for me. I’d walk by the phone for 2 or 3 hours before working up the courage to make the call. The captions helped and little by little I got over the fear.

InnoCaption was my first captioning smartphone app. I like that they use stenographers, I’m more confident than ever with phone calls. During the pandemic shutdown, I had to use my cell phone at home to make business calls. I found the captions to be more consistent and they came up faster too, so I transitioned to using only my smartphone with InnoCaption for phone calls.. No more anxiety.

JULIA: In 2017, HLAA National held their convention in Salt Lake City, where I first learned about InnoCaption and that they contracted steno writers. I thought to myself, sounds too good to be true (find out more in our podcast Monday).

I put off looking into it for a little minute, but eventually took their assessment test. It. Did. Not. Go. Well. Maybe down the road I will blog about my severe test anxiety. Just writing the word “test” has me in a sweat. Luckily they offered a second chance and I was ready. Sweat and all.

For the past four years InnoCaption has done just what they said they would do. Supply steady contracted work during times in the past I would have had none. I tell them every two weeks what I have available to work. Some months I have more, some I have less. I have as many hours as I want or need most weeks. A side bonus is InnoCaption pay is every two weeks without any problems.

CART providers, interpreters, Voice Relay Operators, Caption operators, operators in general, are all held to high confidentiality standards. We type/sign the spoken word and when done, we flush it. We are essential workers, and sometimes part of the first responder team. But we also allow someone with a hearing loss to share in the best parts of life with friends, family, and coworkers. At the end of the day, my job is about supporting someone who otherwise would be left out of whatever event they are facing, good or bad.

MICHELE: I have not had audio capability on my cell phone since 2012. When I moved to Germany, I had no use for audio (I don’t speak or read German) and so I dropped back to text and data only. After returning to the U.S., in mid-December of 2015, I kept putting off adding audio to my cell phone plan, as I had become accustomed to not having it. I kept telling myself I wanted to add it in order to try InnoCaption, and some of the other accessibility apps that caption cell phone calls, but I procrastinated.

The day before filming our podcast with Cristina, I stopped at my cell provider and changed my service to include audio capability. I was so excited to finally try InnoCaption and connect with people on mobile calls like a hearing person. I am blown away by how well it works and am kicking myself for not taking action sooner. Everyone I have used InnoCaption with so far says they love hearing my voice and chatting on the phone with me again.

Matt Goncalves of InnoCaption at the 2019 SayWhatClub Convention in Sacramento, CA.

I first learned about InnoCaption in 2017, while serving as a volunteer for the SayWhatClub Convention Steering Committee. InnoCaption has sponsored our convention for several years, and what is always evident is their caring, commitment, and willingness to listen to, and work with, their users.

Categories
Captioning CART (live captioning) Speech to Text Captions

CART/AI CAPTIONING

Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART) is live captioning, an accommodation for the deaf and Hard of Hearing (HoH) who have difficulty hearing speech clearly. A stenographer (like a court reporter) sits in the meeting, either in person or remotely, and types everything that is said in real-time to be displayed on various types of screens for people with hearing loss to read. The majority of people with hearing loss are not part of Deaf culture, and do not know sign language. CART allows the HoH community full and equal access to communication at live speaking events in the same way that ASL interpretation does for the Deaf community.