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Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the ADA

Sound Advice by Ruth D. Bernstein

In recognition of the 25th Anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, New York’s Mayor de Blasio declared July, 2015, ADA25NYC Month. When I read that, I realized it was a time of celebration for me too because, as someone with a progressive and now profound hearing loss, I’ve been advocating for people with hearing loss since the 1980s, first as a professional convention and meeting planner, then, in 1991, as a founding member of the advocates for better communication, a.b.c., the volunteer consumer group allied with the Center for Hearing and Communication.

Some of a.b.c.’s accomplishments include:

  1. bringing captioning to theaters on Broadway, across the United States and introducing the concept in Great Britain;

  2. making movie theaters hearing accessible;

  3. working with hotels and hospitals to encourage hearing accessibility; and

  4. in the era before cell phones, arranging for NJ Turnpike rest stops to have accessible phones.

When a.b.c. disbanded in 2010, I became a Board member of the Hearing Loss Association of America, New York City Chapter (HLAA-NYC), where I continue my advocacy work.

As part of the ADA25NYC celebration, I participated in the first New York City Disability Pride Parade with HLAA-NYC members and CHC staff on Sunday, July 12, 2015. The parade was led by the Mayor, former Senator Tom Harkin and NYC Commissioner of Disabilities, Victor Calise. This was my first Pride Day parade. I was amazed at how good I felt marching with 3000 others people with disabilities. In an effort to make hearing loss visible, I wore rabbit ears, which earned me some thumbs up on the parade route.

On Monday, July 13, 2015, I attended “Lights, Camera, Access,” a conference about access in the media at NYU, with Arlene Romoff, CHC Board member and a founding a.b.c. member. The keynote speaker was Vinton G. Cerf, VP, Chief Internet Evangelist, Google-Emerging Digital Media. Although the general consensus of the participants was access has improved, everyone agreed there is still a long way to go.

I participated in the New York Public Library’s Oral History Project Party, celebrating ADA25NYC, at the Heiskell Library on Thursday, July 16th. The event was attended by Commissioner Calise and NYS Assembly Member Richard Gottfried. Visible Lives records the lives of people coping with disabilities. The NYPL used computers to create the captions, which resulted in some interesting transcriptions. To hear and read my story, click the link below and enter my name.

I met with Danielle Linzer, the Director of Access at the new Whitney on Thursday, July 23rd. In addition to being impressed by the architecture and art in this exciting new environment, I’m pleased to report the museum has done an outstanding job of providing hearing access.

I was recently elected to the Museum Access Consortium (MAC) advisory committee. It’s an interesting job because it involves working with over 100 museums in the metro area to encourage accessibility for people with all disabilities. I’m also a volunteer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and have always been a regular museumgoer. Lucky me!

As part of the ADA25NYC celebration, MAC held a workshop at MoMA about Museum Access on Monday, July 27th. I was invited to participate in the panel after the showing of the MoMA Staff Disability Training video, in which seven people with different disabilities, including me, participated. I talk about the joys of looking at art when you have a hearing loss. Although I had seen the video before, it was exciting and a bit unnerving to see myself on the screen again. All the “actors” who were present at the meeting participated in the lively discussion after the film.

And finally, on Friday, July 31st, thanks to Joe Gordon, Holly Cohen, Toni Lacolucci and I, were invited to attend an instructive session about New and Upcoming Captioning Legislation and Regulations at the National Court Reports Association (NCRA) Convention at the Hilton Hotel. We were all surprised to learn how difficult it is to get correct, properly timed captions on TV screens. I encouraged our host, Adam Finkel, NCRA Director of Government Relations, to reach out to hearing loss groups, explain the complex process of TV captioning and how to complain if they don’t work properly.

It was an exhilarating, exciting, informative, and, I must confess, a bit tiring, two weeks. Although I don’t expect to be around to mark the 50th anniversary of the ADA (because I recently celebrated my 82nd birthday), I look forward to continued advocating for people with hearing loss for many more years.

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