Disability Must be Part of Diversity Initiatives

If you work for a college, government agency, or large corporation, it is likely there is some type of diversity initiative or program. In my own experience, I have seen very little mention of disabilities as a diversity issue. This is a serious oversight.

It is important for those of us who are informed about disability issues either personally or professionally to take steps to correct this. Sometimes we wait for some distant advocacy group to do this, or some professional who manages diversity efforts. Neither of these will be effective in changing things where you work.

So, we all need to take two steps. First of all, you should write an email to your supervisor and politely express how important it is to you to have disabilities represented in diversity initiatives. Secondly, find out who leads the diversity efforts where you work and ask them to include disabilities as part of the diversity program.

In my opinion, this is the best way to raise awareness of disabilities, and ensure it continues to be part of the conversation. Diversity outreach, training and hiring efforts receive a lot of attention and support, all of which could benefit people with disabilities and their families.

Repost from May 20, 2010


Closing thoughts about “The Incidents” at FSK Mall in Frederick

The last week at our home has been focused, first of all, on getting my daughter off to college. A second focus has been dealing with the “incidents” at FSK Mall in Frederick. http://www.fredericknewspost.com/sections/news/display.htm?storyID=108668

After two newspaper articles, an online article, and a television news story, we think there has been sufficient coverage. Just to close out, though, with some parting thoughts.

You never know what you are going to get with the media.

We have had experience with the media several times before, usually positive, but sometimes not. We were hesitant to move forward, but thought about the people with disabilities who feel isolated, have a bad experience, and feel powerless to do anything. We were very fortunate to have an excellent television reporter and an excellent newspaper reporter. They were experienced, bright, articulate and took the time to get the correct information. They obviously were seeing these incidents our family experienced as an opportunity to raise awareness.

I still can’t believe these things happened.

I mean, really, in 2010, 30 miles outside of Washington, DC, and this kind of thing happens. We were detained, as if doing something illegal. I guess we have not come as far as we hoped with disability rights.

My earlier post about Facebook is really on target now.

This public awareness started by some posts on Facebook, some people reading it and getting angry, and contacting their contacts, and contacts of contacts. Within 36 hours the media was involved. This can only happen through a medium like Facebook, which as I said before, has its problems.

Leadership is hard.

The managers at the mall were apologetic and upset, and understandably so. This is the kind of call you hate to get, and the kind of PR no one wants. Still, unfortunately, the buck stops at your desk, and you have to deal with it, and take steps to make sure it does not happen again.

The end result looks promising.

The best outcome is that disability access and awareness training will now take place in over 30 locations across the country. Someone, or hopefully many someones, will be spared the embarrassment and frustration of having to deal with this type of intrusion in a public place.

Doctor Visits

I confess to having white coat phobia. I do not like doctor’s offices, hospitals, or dentists.

Last week we I had to visit my nephrologist (a kidney doctor). I paid careful attention to how the staff communicated with me. First stop, the lady behind the desk–not good. She did not look up, and yelled for me through the window. The next person, the nurse who comes out and calls your name, did very well. She walked out into the waiting room, looked around, made eye contact, and called my name. The next nurse, taking my blood pressure and asking those pesky questions, also did very well. She sat about two feet from me, looked directly at me, and was easy to understand.

My nephrologist is from Russia, and I know accents can be problematic for many people. However, he speaks very clearly, also sat across from me, maintained eye contact, and did not seem to be in any kind of hurry. I would rate this visit as an overall positive communication experience.

In our local chapter meeting last week we discussed medical visits. People shared many positive experiences of medical personnel trying to do their best to help with communication issues. There were some negative experiences. These included talking to the friend or family member like the person with a hearing loss was not even in the room. Impatient doctors who seemed exasperated at having to repeat their instructions was another issue.

I also wonder how much is being missed in medical visits when the person with a hearing loss thinks they got the information, and the doctor thinks he or she communicated the information, but the person really missed something important. This is an important area for further discussion and research.

Blogging about a Blog

The nature of the blog is that it is an online journal of sorts. From time to time, it is fine to journal about someone else’s journal. Last week, another blogger blogged about an article I wrote for Hearing Loss Magazine. The blog entry written by Shane Feldman can be found here.

Several people have written to me and asked for a response. I think the first part of my response may surprise some when I say that I found Shane Feldman’s writing to be very reasonable and articulate. He makes his arguments well, and has some good points.

I have no intention of going point by point through the blog entry. The main issue is that there are organizations and groups in the country who are confusing state and federal policy makers by stating or implying that if you provide sign language interpreting, then all 31 million people who have a hearing loss have access. I think this point was missed in the DeafDC Blog.

It is unethical to increase program and service funding using statistics made up primarily of a group of people you never intend to help at all, or provide token assistance. I am sure it makes the funding case stronger, but it is oppressive to the service and program needs of people who wish to maximize their residual hearing using technology and other strategies, and continue to verbally communicate.

Chaos and Air Travel

Is it my imagination, or is air travel becoming more of a hassle than ever before? Did people used to get stuck out on the tarmac in crowded planes without working air conditioning? I also wonder if airlines think that not giving bad information is preferred to leaving people in the dark for hours when there are delays and cancellations.

This spring, I was at my gate for a connecting American Airlines flight through Charlotte. When the time for departure came and went I found a gate agent (not all that easy to do) and asked when the plane was leaving. She looked the flight up on her computer and said it had been canceled. “Go over there to customer service,” she said as she pointed to some vague area in the terminal. I eventually made it to my destination, but my baggage did not.

Last week, while going to the Hearing Loss Association’s Convention, my wife Denise, her hearing assistance dog Chloe, and I made our way to BWI for a flight via Southwest Airlines. Usually, I fly Southwest because it is generally a hassle free experience. I do not particularly like the cattle corrals for boarding, but if you check in the night before and arrive before dawn, you can usually get a pretty decent seat.

We arrived to find a crowded terminal, people camped out on the floors, and frantic looking gate agents who just wanted to go home. As we stood around at the first gate, a muffled announcement was made about a flight being switched from this gate to another gate. The people lining up at this gate were going to Buffalo. I could not understand most of the announcement, but heard our flight number and gate number, and knew it was time to move. I told Denise “We’re changing gates.” She said, “How do you know” and I explained there was an announcement. Even with her
cochlear implant, she did not even know an announcement was being made.

Soon we found ourselves in the right gate area, for now. 15 minutes before boarding, I heard an announcement that our plane would be boarding at yet another gate. Thankfully, it was an adjoining gate and we only had to walk a few feet.

Several questions come to mind with this latest experience. First of all, where would Denise be if she were traveling alone? As someone with normal hearing, I struggled to figure out what was going on. The announcements in the terminal and in the plane were muffled, low volume, and almost impossible to understand for anyone. Visual alerting? Try plastic letters slid into a board at the gate. Wasn’t this the same system being used in the 1930’s? Do we not have nice crystal displays and computers connecting wirelessly?

I am sure Denise would have missed the plane if she were traveling alone. Gate agents were swamped and she would not have gotten to one of them in time. In fact, she would probably have been in line to go to Buffalo. When she handed her boarding pass to the gate agent she would have been told she was in the wrong line. Then what would have happened?

The bottom line question is how do we advocate to get visual information in terminals and planes? This is not just for people who do not hear well, this will benefit everyone. We have made some sporadic progress, but there is much to be done.

What where they thinking…

Long story short… a teenager boy in NY has not been allowed to bring his hearing assistance dog into school. Many may have heard the story, or seen it on CNN or some other show. Here’s one link: http://wcbstv.com/topstories/local_story_008053726.html

This should have been a “no-brainer” for the school system officials. They should know they have no legal standing, at all. Other than the legal issues, what about public relations? Everyone knows you don’t mess with kids and puppies.

The only reply that I have seen from the school system officials said something about a “process” not being followed. In other words, our lawyer told us to keep quiet until we can figure out a way out of this fiasco.

What were they thinking? Well, I don’t believe they were thinking at all.

There they go… again

Last month at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) meeting, a democratic commissioner and a republican commissioner both quoted President Ronald Reagan. Given that this is in vogue, I decided to pull a quote myself “There they go again.”

I received a press release a couple of weeks ago announcing that Communications Services for the Deaf (CSD) is going to spin off the video interpreting services into a for-profit company. CSD has helped a lot of people, and provided many services. Their press release, unfortunately, contained a huge mistake.

The CSD press release stated: “VRS offers the nation’s 28 million deaf and hard of hearing individuals the ability to communicate using sign language when making telephone calls.” As I have stated many times, the most generous estimates are that 500,000 people utilize sign language to communicate in our country.

Every time an organization states or implies that 28 million people use sign language, it has a negative impact for the more than 97% of people with hearing loss who do not use sign language. It hurts our advocacy efforts to increase services that really will help the majority of the in this country with hearing loss.

When I point out errors like the one in the CSD press release, I am inevitably called an audist, or someone will say that I am “anti-sign language.” All of this is done to draw attention away from the facts. Some organizations or agencies have responded in recent years by adding “and hard of hearing” to their names or mission statements. They did not change, or offer any new services, but made the change to keep the government money flowing in.