Opinion Columns & Blogs

Candidates missing an opportunity to appeal to deaf voters

In the movie "Ghostbusters," Bill Murray made a politically shrewd observation while trying to persuade the mayor of his plan to save the world. He reasoned. "If I'm right, and we can stop this thing, Lenny, you will have saved the lives of millions of registered voters."

This line provided an enormous laugh; the Ghostbusters went on to conquer Zuul and the mayor gathered in those millions of voters. Oddly enough, this same scenario is playing out in this election.

Nearly all the 2010 candidates nationwide are missing an opportunity to connect with 10 percent, literally, tens of millions of registered voters who are deaf or hard of hearing. Frankly, I’m surprised nobody has fully utilized this resource by making their campaigns fully accessible. Recently, during a football game, one candidate’s ad popped up. I rolled my eyes and shook my head in disgust because there were no captions. It’s a shame to see so many bright and capable candidates spending tens of thousands on marketing themselves without paying the couple hundred needed to add captions. The last presidential campaign provided a powerful example of what an accommodation can do to access the deaf vote.

One deaf woman posted a video on You Tube showing proof of how Barack Obama’s website was fully accessible and how John McCain’s wasn’t. It sparked some serious arguments in the deaf community, and you can imagine how it influenced those undecided votes.

McCain made several campaign errors, including not realizing the power of grassroots media and accessibility. By not providing accommodations, it sent the message to the deaf community: you’re not important and you don’t matter.

To those running for office I ask, “Is that the message you want to send to any undecided voter?”

Since I’m researching my candidates, I browsed several websites to see what information I could glean. Not surprisingly, the videos at the websites, including the ones which were originally aired on TV, weren’t accessible with captions. Granted, most productions are filled with half truths and mud-slinging, but those of us who need captions believe it’s rude to be left out of the conversation on purpose or otherwise. I e-mailed Patty Murray, Dino Rossi, Jamie Herrera, Denny Heck and others to ask why their websites were not accessible for those with hearing loss. At deadline, only one candidate responded and said they would “do their best to fix this.”

Each candidate may claim to be the muscular Rocky Balboa for those with disabilities but their actions make them look like suspendered, Steve Erkel weaklings.

What really bothers me is after the elections are done, this exclusion carries over into the day-to-day access to televised government meetings. Care to guess how many meetings from local, county or state-run channels provide captions? Despite federal laws that clearly state that all broadcasts must be accessible, other than C-Span, I have yet to see any which meet this standard. For me, it’s bewildering that I can follow a captioned, in-game conversation with Howie, Terry and the crew on Fox Sports about blitz protection for the Seahawks, but that I have to ask for a post-meeting script to access a discussion about how government plans to increase my taxes.

Every day you and I are expected to obey each and every law, or risk being assessed with fines or even jail time. It begs these questions: Why do we allow for this double standard with politicians? Shouldn’t our elected officials and government be setting the example by following the established law for providing accommodations?

Stephen Roldan, a member of The Olympian’s Diversity Panel, is statewide coordinator of deaf services for the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation within the Department of Social and Health Services. He can be reached at roldasj@dshs.wa.gov.