Advocacy: Two Hot Issues

Jim O'Donnell
Jim O’Donnell

Advocacy: Two Hot Issues — Jim O’Donnell

The two hottest issues for hearing impaired folks right now are captioning and the loop. Captioning is one assistive service that affects the broad spectrum of hearing loss; Deaf, hard of hearing-early and late, CI and hearing aid users alike. Two actions came up just in the last month: the Federal Communications Commission is considering additional regulations on live captioning, and a coalition of hearing loss groups are pushing the FCC to mandate accuracy with a low tolerance for errors. Naturally there’s some push back as television stations fret about additional penalties. Not fully appreciating the value of these captions is part the same old attitude.

On the local front, several groups have gone after EdX, which is the Massive Open Online Courses provider from Harvard and MIT, for not providing online courses which accommodate those with different disabilities. It’s amazing that EdX claims that the Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t apply here. What about the Rehabilitation Act of 1974? That law says that any entity that gets federal money must make their programs accessible. All colleges get some federal money. Of course, now they say they want to make online courses accessible anyway. The last time I looked at one of their online courses it was captioned- mostly. This is not unlike the situation with You Tube and Netflix last year when they got burned on the lack of captioning. The more that complaints are made with some legal oomph behind them, the more that word then goes out to providers, and they voluntary comply.

With regard to looping, HLAA Boston Chapter had a wonderful workshop presented by Juliette Sterkens, an audiologist who has been working with David Myers, our national looping champion, to get the word out and buttress our arguments for promoting looping in local houses of worship and government offices. This is the kind of issue for which you, as a informed user, can advocate. The more we advocate, the more aware the world becomes, and the momentum for loops installations reaches a critical mass that cannot be ignored. Look up the information on our website and go forth multiplying the loop.

James F. O’Donnell has practiced law in Boston in the area of disability law, with emphasis on advocacy for children with disabilities in educational settings. Jim served as Massachusetts Deputy Commissioner for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing from 1999 to 2003 and subsequently worked as Special Education Administrator in the Boston Public Schools. Before initiating private practice, Jim was Executive Officer of the Boston Retirement Board and a member of the Commission for Persons with Disabilities. He has also worked as a specialist in employee benefits and taxes in private industry. Jim holds degrees from Suffolk University Law School and Simmons College, where he earned a Masters Degree in Special Education. In addition, he has served as a volunteer in leadership positions for a variety of non-profit organizations, including the Boston Guild for The Hard of Hearing, Association of Late Deafened Adults, and Hearing Loss Association of America. He currently is a member of the Steering Committee of HLAA’s Boston chapter, Hear@Boston.