Women’s March – Is it inclusive enough?

You’d think that a year after one of the most historic protests ever, something would change for the better? No, not enough has changed. Drumpf’s just making things worse. This past Saturday, we were back at it again, commemorating the anniversary of the Women’s March (January 21th, 2017) with another march in DTLA. The only thing different this time around, was the crowd. Less folks, but the same fiery gonna-make-my-voice-be-heard energy was all still there.

I enjoyed every minute of the march. Well, except one; actually except several minutes.

With the more manageable crowd, I was finally able to get close up to the stage this year – unlike last year. Only to have my view of the speaker’s podium completely blocked by one of the large Women’s March posters. Snugged in my spot, I didn’t want to get upset. Too many times before I’ve been upset about what appears to be a non-issue to an able body.

But I’m hard of hearing and reading lips and facial expressions help me capture everything the best I can.

I was however, excited to see an ASL interpreter, but I rely on speech. I’m not fluent in ASL as I used to be. (Life Tip: Never assume someone with a hearing loss knows sign language. You’re welcome.) I couldn’t barely see even the interpreter, also right behind this large poster. I thought, “Man, if only they had live captioning displayed above the stage, at all the stages around the country” – I’d be able to follow along. I would be included.

This is not a new feeling for me.

I’ve had several life situations of missed opportunities due to lack of accessibility.

If only I had captions screened through my eyes balls! (That’s the dream). Not only would live captions be an accommodation to myself, it would accommodate the nearly 48 million Americans that have a significant hearing loss. [HLAA]  It would also accommodate those who are non-native english speakers.

There is a solution! All throughout college, I had a CART provider typing up word for word everything my professors said. CART stands for Communication Access Realtime Translation. CART is a service in which a certified CART provider listens to speech and instantaneously translates all the  spoken word to text. Remote CART streams text to a secure internet URL for viewing, and may be displayed on a variety of screens.

This provides many benefits, including equal communication access, independence, confidence, anonymity, and full participation.

I thought with the inclusive nature demonstrated by the Women’s March team – I’m sure someone had thought of disability inclusion & accessibility. That’s when I came across an article on Medium, in which Emily Ladau, a disability advocate, outlined the Women’s March Platform and it’s zero recognition of disability as a social justice issue and provided sources to explain why disability should be included throughout the platform. I was surprised but not surprised at the same time.

“Disability rights must always have a seat at the social justice table.”

|Emily Ladau

Emily added an updated paragraph to the end of the article with news that the Women’s March on Washington national team began to make positive changes to reflect disability inclusion. That’s great news but… we need more.

I’m 28 years old. I was born with a hearing loss, so I know that if I need accommodations then I have to ask for it. I learned to advocate for myself early on. I have to teach folks how to behave around me. Something as simple as asking people to face me when they speak to me can be challenging for folks. Especially for folks with seniority over me. They don’t want to be told to make a new habit with someone below them. Where’s the respect?!

I’m gonna be real, all of it gets tiring. Having to think ahead about this shit and speak up. Tiring.

When your society isn’t designed or accommodating for you, the burden is put on yourself.

I’m talking about simple things folks.. like going to a movie – I got to think of the context of the film – Do the actors have accents? Is the story line crazy to follow? What theater? Do they have at least decent captioning devices? Most of them suck, but if they have captioned glasses – then I’m a happy camper. (Life tip: All movie theaters need to have Sony caption glasses. You’re welcome.)

About 80% percent of the time, I’m not embarrassed of my hearing loss. But anonymity is definitely out the door with movie theater accommodations. Whether you’re wearing the dorky big glasses or struggling to adjust an out-dated closed-caption device that’s wedged into the seat’s cup holder, with it’s clunky arm sticking out the attached marquee screen into your line of sight… it’s annoying and could bring unwanted attention from movie goers. The worst thing is, sections of dialogue don’t get captioned…. and it happens all the time. I’m calling you out ArcLight! Your devices fail every single time. I complain always in person and have sent headquarters an email years ago, and never got a response. Not cool. (Life tip: All my Deaf and HOH folks, don’t go to ArcLight, go to Regal Cinemas. You’re Welcome.)

Here’s an example in which live captioning works: I was hired on to photograph HLAA’s Walk4hearing (a walk fundraiser that increases public awareness about hearing loss, eradicates the stigma associated with it and raises funds for national and local programs).

Whenever a presenter spoke, live captions were available to stream on your smart phone!

I had the same live caption service at my college graduation. It was amazing! I was able to understand every word and be inspired by the speakers. (I was also the first person to show up at my graduation. I have pictures. Rows of empty chairs).

One might think – why didn’t I prepare myself for the march? Why didn’t I look up to see whether the march has accommodations? Maybe there was a special reserved area for those with disabilities? Or maybe they did have assistive listening devices – I don’t know!

BURDEN. ON. SELF. No I didn’t look up any accommodating information for this march. I actually wasn’t sure I was going to go – that’s the problem. Last minute decisions to go somewhere, see something, participate in something for those with disabilities is not easy. Talk about mental load.

*Inhale*… *Exhale*. Much like Emily, my hopes is for the organizers to be more inclusive of disability rights. For all of us to be more inclusive. Sometimes all you need to do is look at folks in the face.

FYI: My hearing loss doesn’t define me. Did I mention I’m a photographer? Here are some snaps I took of the march for you to enjoy.

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