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Hearing Loss Community Members: Terri Shirley

We’d like to invite you to get know some of our hearing loss community members. Why? Because they provide valuable resources and inspire us. Spreading hearing loss awareness is going to take a lot of us working together and as individuals. Connections in the community provide more resources and ways to get the word out.

Meet Terri Shirley, a captioning advocate. She has successfully advocated for captions with the Colorado Environmental Film Festival.

How long have you been a captioning advocate and what made you start?  

Two things drove my passion for open caption advocacy.

Around 2005 in Kansas City (KC), I began advocating with a friend who had ten years more advocacy experience. We approached different theaters. KC has a large deaf community and an AMC theater’s headquarters in the metropolitan area. With my hearing loss, I could not fully enjoy movies’ plots for years until open captions (OC) movies were available. It left me out. I scheduled times to talk to the general manager at AMC headquarters to educate them and expand OC screenings.

Also, I have always loved independent movies. In 2015, my grandson was filmed in ‘The House on Pine Street’. It was shot in KC by first-time movie producers who were all under the age of 25. I approached them immediately, educating them about OC thinking it was best to nip it in the bud. Even though they wanted to add captions, the film had already been sold to an agent. Unfortunately, they no longer had control of their film.

The film was featured once in a KC film festival and once in Northern California. When I asked the KC film fest for captions, they said they couldn’t show the movie with captions. They offered two tickets for the price of one, which I declined. The film went to Barcelona, Spain, with Spanish subtitles before it went to Amazon, who later added captions!

What are some of your successes?

In 2018, I moved to Colorado and missed the OC movies so much. I immediately advocated for OC in Northern Colorado with the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) Boulder Chapter. We had several unsuccessful years of passing an OC movie bill in Colorado. In February 2021, the National Association of Theater Colorado Chapter members listened to our stories at a hearing in the state capitol. We thought our efforts were wasted until June 12, 2021. I asked Century Boulder for ‘In the Heights’ to be OC. This time the answer was yes. One day, the manager let me know all Cinemark theaters in Colorado would play every movie with OC two days a week. I was floored! Shortly afterward, Regal and AMC caught the wave, as well as others. We currently have nearly 50 theaters offering OC part-time regularly.

HLAA Boulder Colorado Chapter

After that historical event,  I had more time to tackle something new since I didn’t organize OC movies anymore. This I approached Sundance Film Fest several times about the lack of captions never making a dent there. I tend to move on if education is ignored, using my time wisely and more productively.

In 2022, I asked the Colorado Environmental Film Festival(CEFF) which films were OC to watch virtually at home. That year, CEFF movies were shown virtually due to COVID. The director got back to me immediately. They had 21 films with captions scattered into different collections. The director put all the captioned films together in a few collections just for me. This way I didn’t need to buy all the collections to watch 21 films. I sent feedback on the quality of captions, good and bad. CEFF asked if I would like to be a film judge the following year. I accepted.

VITAC Sponsors Captions

I sent educational articles to the CEFF planning committee for the rest of 2022. CEFF partnered with VITAC and footed $500 to subsidize 15 selected films to add captions to their films. I helped them understand the importance of marketing captions. In 2023, CEFF hosted an in-person fest for the first time since COVID. They offered 63 films captioned, or subtitled, out of 76 films in the virtual fest! Fifteen out of 20 collections were captioned films. I was in awe watching several OC films in person during the festival.

In 2023, CEFF sold several captioned collections. The planning team then decided all films selected for the 2024 fest would have captions. They plan to show open captioned films on a specific day of the in-person film fest. All pre-recorded filmmaker interviews would have captions. Live interviews would have Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART). I helped CEFF write letters to ten agencies. We asked for support in applying for a CCDHHDB grant for selected films to showcase in 2024 CEFF.  The response was highly supported.  

Advocacy alone does not succeed, not without how well your listeners receive education with open minds. There needs to be a willingness to adapt something new to help spread the message. CEFF invites the deaf and hoh to hear the educational, motivational, and inspiring filmmakers’ stories, including films submitted by children. The League of Women Voters Colorado also saw the benefits when I educated them about captions. Their message could be heard by more people with hearing loss, ESL, and thus could reach more voters with captioning.

Can you share some setbacks in captioning advocacy and how you’ve handled them?

There was the time I asked a manager at live theater for open captions. He informed me they would sign a contract with a local CART provider. They would be using iPads for remote captions for all the performances in the upcoming season. He didn’t know the difference between closed captions (CC) and open captions until I explained it.  He thought he bought an open caption system. The contract was cancelled. The deaf/hoh community was happy the deal did not go through. I stopped by the box office frequently in the year following, checking in with the young clerk. She sympathized with the lack of captioning, however the manager would not see me. Then a new manager was hired, and we worked together to achieve OC on monitors through trial and error.  It was a wonderful feeling to be welcomed back.

What’s your vision for those with hearing loss in the future, and how can people help?

I dream of all movies and live theater performances being captioned. I’d love to see town hall meetings and legislation hearings captioned too. All major public events; speaking engagements, concerts accessible to everyone.

Working as a group is more powerful than advocating alone. My HLAA Boulder chapter began taking tours of local businesses to learn how company communications can be improved. We leave feedback. Contact events beforehand. Educate them about captioning using factual articles. Let them know captions benefit more people than those with disabilities.

I also give live theaters a manual created by Cat Pestinger called ‘Don’t Miss A Line‘. This illustrates how to make in-house captions. Earlier this year, I gave a dinner playhouse a copy of Don’t Miss a Line. Their tech then created captions in-house to use with a tablet for ‘CATS.’

It is good to continue knocking on their door if we are not heard the first time. Staff changes occur, and the next person may be more understanding. It is okay to ask for effective communication without disclosing your disability. Each of us can make a difference in breaking barriers for ourselves and those who come after us.

thank you

Thank you Terri for taking us on your journey. Our hearing community can sometimes get our accommodation wrong as your story about the manager at live theater shows. Hearing Loss LIVE! is currently talking about accommodations behind the scenes this month and we share similar stories. Thank you for helping to clear up misconceptions and misinformation as you advocate.

Congratulations on your most recent efforts for captioning! As in this newsletter, CEFF grants have been received for captioning of their films. Here is an opportunity being offered by the Colorado Environmental Film Festival.

Meet more of our hearing loss community members…

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