It’s a No-Brainer

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I was watching television the other night, and my husband said as he pointed at the screen, “You know, I’m gonna vote for that guy.” I looked at him in puzzlement. He was pointing to a renowned politician who typically didn’t work with the deaf community (or many other communities, for that matter). I realized he was joking when he laughed, “Well, his ad says ‘Crosses political party lines.'” My husband’s point was that the ad wasn’t captioned so we had to rely on whatever was shown on screen.

It’s an election year here in Minnesota, so we’re seeing a lot of ads on television where the politician tries to come across as genuine by wearing a flannel shirt or having photo ops with children. My newspaper of choice, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, is chock full of letters to the editors and exposes on politicians. It’s from these stories that I actually learn what candidates say in their televised advertisements.

Yup, you got it. I have to read the newspaper to find out what politicians say in their television ads since the ads generally aren’t captioned. In fact, the number of captioned political ads here can be counted on one hand. For the rest of the ads, I spend my time watching them try-too-hard-to-be-genuine-in-their-smiles as they hawk their platforms because I have absolutely no clue about what’s being said. Sure, I research the candidates before I go to the voting booth, but it’s nice to be able to understand the televised ads, too.

Minnesota prides itself on being a progressive state and proving people who think we’re a bunch of Midwestern hicks (we have those, too) wrong. Yet, year after year, our own politicians consistently neglect to make their advertisements accessible. Mind you, this isn’t a partisan issue. The non-captioning violators include Republicans, Democrats and Independents.

This is mind-boggling when you think about it. There are over 400,000 Minnesotans with hearing loss. That’s a lot of votes. Many of them work for the state in every department imaginable. We also have a legislative day for deaf and hard of hearing people every year at the capitol where we meet with legislators and have a rally. The Minnesota Association of Deaf Citizens is one of the oldest, and most powerful, political and advocacy organizations in the state. Finally, to add insult to injury, we have a deaf man running for a district seat with the House of Representatives.

Yet we continue to lack accessibility when it comes to political campaigns. What’s wrong with this picture?

Minnesota Commission Serving Deaf and Hard of Hearing People (MCDHH) director Mary Hartnett has been working to ensure that these political television advertisements are captioned. She recently contacted candidates for different seats – the governor, attorney general, and so on – and asked them to caption their advertisements. In fact, she went a step further and told the politicians of an agreement with a well-reputed, Minneapolis-based captioning company to provide services at a discount.

Only three responded.

This is terrible, but what’s even more terrible is that MCDHH actually had to do this. Why do we have to actually make calls and remind politicians that there are hundreds of thousands of people in the state who rely on closed captioning?

Money and ignorance, that’s why. This lack of captioning is such a dense mistake a politician can make – claiming to support all groups of people and then deliberately ignoring one of the largest and most active groups in the state. But there is some hope. When Hartnett contacted the governor’s office about captioning, a staffer responded via e-mail, “This is a no-brainer,” and agreed to caption the governor’s advertisements. That’s a start, at least.

Maybe we can make it even more accessible next election year by having all politicians automatically caption their advertisements without anyone having to remind them. That step should be a no-brainer, indeed.

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