Tag Archives: inclusion

Advocacy to Avoid Disability Discrimination Lawsuits

When people with disabilities encounter disability discrimination, they may think the only option is to sue. Or, they may let the issue go, thinking hiring a lawyer may be too expensive or time consuming.

Litigation in court costs money, and matters are resolved over a period of time–sometimes years. That’s too long to wait for a pressing need.

Gavel rests on top of desk with court room participants in distance
The courtroom is a place to solve problems as a last resort. photo credit: CA Supreme Court – 11 via photopin (license)

Other options are available to get access and inclusion.

Many businesses, organizations, and agencies understand that they should respect the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)  and other federal laws that protect Americans with disabilities . One way to raise awareness is to share the law with them.

When agencies, organizations, and businesses know the laws and don’t want to make accommodations or include people with disabilities, there are other remedies.

According to the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities’ (CTD) Messenger e-Newsletter, a lawsuit should come after other efforts have been made to see if a solution can be reached.

The CTD newsletter suggests three actions before seeking a lawyer:

Wheelchair ramp leads up to steps
Here’s a situation businesses could understand better once someone pulled their wheelchair up to this ramp. photo credit: Ramp to No where via photopin (license)
  • Talk to the business directly CTD recommends asking for the manager or the property manager. A CTD example shows that calling attention to access for one disability can benefit others: “CTD was approached by a group of taxi drivers who were concerned that the drop-off area [for Austin City Limits] was far from the entrance gates and required people with mobility impairments to traverse a ditch. CTD staff met with Festival organizers … By the next year, vehicles transporting people with disabilities were allowed to pull right up to the entrance gate. Plus, the Festival added accommodations such as an accessibility station and free rental wheelchairs, and ASL interpreters became permanent.”
  • Put it in writing An example where this worked: “Austin resident Julie Maloukis sent Maudie’s Tex Mex written notice about their inaccessible parking. Several weeks later, Maudie’s contacted Julie, thanking her for letting them know about the situation and to tell her the parking spaces were fixed.”
  • File a complaint with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, “which might be able to require a business to comply with ADA regulations.” What does the Department of Licensing and Regulation do? According to the agency’s website, they “ensure public safety and customer protection, and provide a fair and efficient licensing and regulatory environment at the lowest possible cost.” The department has influence over businesses, particularly if the business requires a license. Complaints can be filed against businesses that are unlicensed too.

Another way to educate others is to ask to schedule a demonstration of the lack of access or inclusion. When staff at businesses learn how the problem affects others, they are more willing to help.

For example, if a ramp is too steep at the entrance to business, offer to demonstrate for them why. Have someone to spot the wheelchair as you attempt to travel up or down the ramp, and keep safe.

Captions on bottom of TV screen showing news about Oprah and Australia.
Watching TV without sound or captions is a quick way to teach why captions are important to those with hearing loss or deafness. photo credit: NICOLE CHETTLE via photopin (license)

If you need communication access, demonstrate how the experience would be without sound or words. For example, if you need a video captioned, have them watch the video with you without any sound. Have them read a paper with their eyes closed or in the dark if you are requesting Braille and they don’t understand why.

Be creative with teaching others to understand. Misunderstandings lead to discrimination continuing. Once everyone is on the same page, it’s easier to find a reasonable solution.

In many cases, these steps will work with solving  discrimination situations.

If not, another option before filing a lawsuit is to ask a lawyer to draft a letter discussing their obligations under the law, so that they are aware of the seriousness of the situation.

Whether the person chooses to take a matter to court is his or her right. Each person needs to evaluate how severe the situation is, and if a possible solution can be reached without deciding to sue.

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The Need for Star Wars Access for All Abilities, Signing May the Force Be with You

Children dress up as Jedi masters from the Dark Side with red lightsabers.
People of all abilities want to put on a costume and share the Star Wars’ experience. Credit: Christina Goebel, Star Wars: The Force Awakens Dec. 17 premiere at Disney Springs in Kissimmee, Florida

While premieres for the latest Star Wars movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, were last night, the film opens in nationwide theaters today. Almost everyone who wants to can view one of the coolest movies in the galaxy–but not quite. For one blogger who uses a wheelchair, leaving home to view the movie with a damaged wheelchair could endanger his life. Another young man may be attending the film because of director J.J. Abram’s and others’ contributions.

Access to movies for people of all abilities will take a community effort.

Star The Force Awakens Wars lit up on the ground.
This Star Wars: The Force Awakens step and repeat on the ground at Disney Springs in Kissimmee, Florida makes it easy for everyone to snap their picture, even if they use a wheelchair. Credit: Christina Goebel

Movies have been a stress point for many people with a disability. For some, they need captions or amplification to hear, others need descriptive voice, and others need physical access to parking, the building, and accessible seating and bathrooms. Many theaters now provide this access and indicate next to the movie listing if it’s accessible.

A lot of work is still needed for ensuring access, as you can tell from viewing this “official” trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens that has no captions or this one, with 22 million views–but no captions for people who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing, or Deafblind. As for descriptive voice for people who are blind, also not there.

Star The Force Awakens Wars light display on side of a Disney building.
This Star Wars: The Force Awakens building wall projection provides another accessible backdrop for people with many abilities. Credit: Christina Goebel, at Disney Springs

Here is how theaters accommodate disability, but visit your theater’s website or call to verify and if necessary, reserve access:

  • Descriptive voice: actions described by voice, supplied for those with low vision or blindness and available over a theater-provided headset
  • Closed-captioning: viewed by theater-provided Sony glasses, a captioning device, or shield (View a captioned video of how captioned glasses work here.)
  • Open captioning: scheduled less frequently, captions are shown on the film itself for all to see
  • Assistive Listening Device: a theater-provided amplification device for those with mild to moderate hearing loss
  • Accessible Parking, Seating, and Bathrooms: those spaces with no seats allow someone using a wheelchair to sit–and may run out temporarily during Star Wars’ showings
  • Showings for People with Cognitive Disabilities: usually scheduled later for showings, allow viewers to walk around or talk as they desire, sound may be lower for those with Autism, reduces stress about “proper behavior” for viewing films
  • Showings for with Sign Language for People who are Deaf: usually scheduled later with sign language interpreters

Watching films with sign language is a truer form of communication for those who are culturally Deaf and use sign as their primary method of communication.

To see how different sign language is from captions, learn how Deaf Star signs, “May the Force be With You!”

Seats in a theater with open space next to them to accommodate a wheelchair.
Seats with open spaces next to them are for wheelchairs. Don’t occupy these areas unless you or family members need them. photo credit: Riverview Theater [006/366] via photopin (license)
If you need accommodations, call early for theater access, especially when seats will be full, to know if there will be enough accessible seating, if captions will be available for the 3D version of the movie, if the film will have descriptive voice, if an open captioned film will be shown, or if there will be enough amplification devices on hand.

On crowded days, those using wheelchairs might want to call ahead to arrange for assistance carrying their food and drinks while navigating thick crowds in hallways.

Those needing additional access should show up early to the film to ensure their space or equipment is available. Accessible seating and equipment take extra time to arrange.

While many people with disabilities will experience Star Wars: The Force Awakens in theaters, some will not.

Darth Vader kneels on ground. He has painted the words Epic Fail on the wall.
Technology exists to improve people’s lives, but many can’t receive access to it. In some cases, when equipment fails, people with disabilities may have to wait years for a replacement. photo credit: Weston Super Mare – Epic Fail via photopin (license)

For actor, blogger, and activist Dominick Evans, Dec. 17 was a reminder of the downside of the lack of access. Evans said in his blog, “Not only can I not go see [Star Wars: The Force Awakens], but I probably won’t be able to see it until it comes to streaming or television. The reason is because I lack access to the things I need to not only get out of my house, but also out of my bed. I have been trapped in bed before, and it sucks, but today it is my reality…not because I’m disabled, but because any type of equipment and services I (and others) need, are 10 times more expensive. ”

Wheelchair foot rest is alone on floor, broken off the wheelchair.
Something as simple as a broken wheelchair foot rest can contribute to broken bones for the user because the wheelchair can roll over his or her foot. photo credit: Broken leg via photopin (license)

Evans has had a broken wheelchair for three years. He said that if insurance comes through, he may have a new wheelchair next spring. In the meantime, Evans’ wheelchair is painful and dangerous to use.

Not having a wheelchair is one of Evans’ access problems. Another is needing a new Hoyer lift, equipment used to move Evans into his wheelchair and out of it.

Evans said, “Due to something called contractures in my legs, which can be very painful, my legs hang around the bar of the kind of lift I use. My feet snag on it, and I have recently experienced multiple sprained feet and broken toes.”

The new lift that won’t break Evans’ bones costs $5,000 and may not be covered by insurance.

For people like Evans, not having appropriate technology is life-threatening and deprives him of choices many of have that we take for granted.

“This is the part of having a disability that stinks the most … knowing you could have your freedom back, but lacking that access to get the things you need, to make it happen. Today I wish I could go to the movies. I have long been a Star Wars fan,” Evans said.

Evans asks us to think of him when we experience the film at theaters. He said, “So today, if you get to go enjoy Star Wars…have some popcorn for me, and think about ways you can help support the disability community, so those of us currently unable to go see this film, or any other film franchise we happen to love, due to lack of access, have a greater chance of not facing these barriers, in the future.”

J.J. Abrams standing a podium next to microphone.
J.J. Abrams, director of the new Star Wars movie, has contributed to the access of those with disabilities. Have you? photo credit: J. J. Abrams via photopin (license)

J.J. Adams, the director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, contributed $50,000 this year to the family of 10-year-old Michael Keating, a young man who has Cerebral Palsy and whose family needed an accessible van to transport him. They needed more equipment too, since his mother had two hernia surgeries related to moving her 70-pound son.

According to a Washington Post report, Abrams said, “Katie and I made the donation. Likely for the same reason others did: we were moved by the Keating family’s grace, strength and commitment to each other.”

Picture of Yoda's head. It reads, "Try not. Do or do not. There is no try."
Abrams lives Yoda’s mantra by taking action to ensure greater access for others. It’s probable that a young man whose family he helped was able to see his movie because of Abrams’ contribution. photo credit: Yoda wisdom via photopin (license)

Sign Shares staff realizes the need to advocate for access and inclusion so that everyone can live, work, and play in the least restrictive environment. Sign Shares has contributed to disability events across the state and nation to support disability education, awareness, inclusion, and advocacy for people of all abilities.

If you need a sign language interpreter, CART live captioning, or similar resources, you can request services here or call: Local (Houston): 713.869.4373 • Toll Free: 866.787.4154, or at the Videophone numbers for callers who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: Videophone 1: 832.431.3854 • Videophone 2: 832. 431.4889.

The Sign Shares’ advocacy team can provide resources to those who need technology, access, or advocacy information. Contact us here or by calling the numbers above, at  or at the Videophone numbers for callers who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: Videophone 1: 832.431.3854 • Videophone 2: 832.431.4889.

May the Force Be with You!

 

 

 

Deaf Students at Harvard Request Greater Access and Inclusion

According to an article in The Harvard Crimson, some students are embracing Deaf culture more at Harvard University, while students ask for ASL courses for full inclusion.

The subject of the Harvard article, Westley “West” A. Resendes, has had some good experiences at Harvard as a student who wears a cochlear implant and self-identifies as culturally “Deaf.”

According to the article, “He had interpreters for lectures, sections, and thesis meetings, as well as outside events at the Kennedy School of Government and Kirkland House.”

Cynthia Carvey signing.
Sign Shares’ interpreters like Cynthia Carvey don’t censor what is said. Deaf students want all of the same information as everyone else. (license)

The university provides full inclusion during access. For example, Resendes recalls that when Family Guy creator, Seth McFarlane, visited Harvard, the celebrity learned signs for vulgar words in ASL and then said them and watched the interpreters sign them, according to the article.

Times have changed for students who are deaf at Harvard. A professor from the deaf college Gallaudet University, Caroline M. Solomon, said there were no staff interpreters when she arrived at Harvard.

According to the article, “Halfway through [Solomon’s] first semester, however, the school hired an interpreter full time, who stayed with her for the next four years.”

Resendes and others sometimes don’t receive interpreters if they can’t give advance notice, according to the article.

Sarah D. Gluck, a deaf graduate student pursuing a degree in speech and hearing bioscience and technology, said, “Hearing students have the privilege of walking through the hallway and seeing a poster for something, like a science lecture or talk that’s happening that day or later that week, but it’s hard for me to have any sort of spontaneity.”

Gluck and others who are deaf must give two to three weeks’ notice of their intentions to attend an event, according to the article.

Many pictures in one of a woman showing sign language symbols with her hands.
American Sign Language classes teach one of America’s most-used languages. They also educate some of tomorrow’s interpreters. photo credit: See Hear via photopin (license)

Besides the difficulties of interpreter availability at Harvard, the lack of American Sign Language, or ASL, classes thwarts students like Resendes. The university had ASL courses in the 1990’s, but dropped them due to funding. Now, according to the article, the only ASL courses are provided by the campus organization CODA.

According to the article, Resendes tried fulfill his Harvard foreign language requirement with ASL and his request was denied. Currently, Harvard students can study ASL only as a source of research.

Resendes said, according to the article, that the standard is “rather unfair…considering other languages can be taken for pleasure at Harvard,” and that “The University needs to reconsider its outdated position on ASL.”

Significant strides are being taken by the university journalism staff because they are providing balanced news by presenting news from the perspective of deaf students. Also, The Harvard Crimson reporters aren’t perpetuating stereotypes and are including issues relevant to students with all abilities.

Human Writes with a W is written on paper with a marker.
By including the interests of students who are deaf and hard of hearing, Harvard journalists help to cultivate an inclusive environment on campus. (license)

Media inclusion is crucial for the future inclusive environment at Harvard, because without news coverage, students and faculty at the campus wouldn’t know the issues faced and changes needed.

According to Susan C. Levine in “Reporting on Disability,” “Media coverage plays a crucial role in educating the public on disability issues. It could–and should–be helping people understand that these are civil-rights issues. But more often than not, reporting on disability perpetuates negative stereotypes or fails to tell the story from the perspective of people with disabilities.”

Man reads newspaper intently.
Campus media influences how well a university accepts, rejects, or ignores students of all abilities. photo credit: Eligh Reading via photopin (license)

Like many universities, Harvard is working toward greater access and inclusion for all students and the article in The Harvard Crimson is proof that the campus culture encourages growth.

If you would like to provide a more inclusive environment for people who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing, or Deafblind, you can request services from Sign Shares here or call 713.869.4373 or 866.787.4154.

 

 

 

 

 

Premiere Tonight, Dec. 8: “Born this Way,” a Series about People with Developmental Disabilities

“The doctors asked her if she wanted to have a abortion of me. I could be out there dead,” a young man tells a group of people. That he has Down Syndrome is the detail that makes the doctors’ suggestion especially chilling.

Father holds daughter who has Down Syndrome.
Parents and children with Down Syndrome are often discouraged by limitations created by stereotypes. (license)

He is just one of the cast members of a new TV show premieres tonight, Tuesday Dec. 8 on A&E® Network at 9 p.m. CT. The docu-series will cover the lives of seven individuals with Down Syndrome.

Born This Way is an A&E® Network and Bunim/Murry Productions series. There are six, hour-long episodes.

You can preview the series with captions here.

According to the series’ YouTube channel, the show will explore the lives of seven adults with Down Syndrome “as they pursue their passions and lifelong dreams, explore friendships, romantic relationships and work, all while defying society’s expectations.”

One of the show’s stars, entrepreneur and public speaker Megan Bomgaars, has started her own business, Megology. Her website sells hand-dyed scarves and tote bags.

Also on Bomgaars’ website is her video, “Don’t Limit Me,” which is a message to teachers about the need to set high expectations for students with disabilities. The video has more than 338,000 views.

Room with people in meeting. Floor reads Disability is NOT inability.
Bomgaar’s video implores teachers to set high (not impossible) expectations for all students. (license)

The show also portrays their parents and explores difficult topics, such as having children, getting married, and what happens when their parents are no longer living.

Bomgaars’ mother asks, “She needs to be independent, but what happens when I die?” Can Bomgaar find a way to have it all?

Viewers will discover the show challenges their thinking.

Webinar, Training Provide Tips for Creating an Inclusive Workplace

Want to have a more inclusive work place and hire people with disabilities, but not sure how? Onsite training from Sign Shares, Inc./International and a free webinar offer you solutions.

Sign Shares boat logo with blue handsSign Shares provides meetings to train and answer any questions you have about interpreting services for people who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing, or Deaf-Blind. Sign Shares is the oldest, professional,  and unique provider of Sign Language Interpreting and Translation Services in the United States. Sign Shares’ staff know this may be a new type of communication for many people and can share strategies to make the transition smoother.

Workshops are catered to your needs and may include:

  • Why do people who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing/Deaf-Blind request interpreters or captioning?
  • What are the differences between the Deaf/Hard of Hearing and Hearing cultures?
  • Which Americans with Disabilities Act laws apply to my company?
  • What are common misconceptions about people who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing/Deaf-Blind?

Schedule your workshop today!

coordinator@signshares.com; 713-869-4373; Fax: 713-869-8463; Video Phone#1: 832-431-3854; Video Phone#2: 832-431-4899

Need to request Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services? Contact Sign Shares here.

Workplace shows roomy open seating
Desk areas that are open on the bottom allow staff with wheelchairs, walkers, and other mobility conditions easy access to their work space.

This free webinar, from the Employer Assistance and Resource Network, will provide strategies learned through eight nationwide consortia to increase the capacity of small businesses to employ people with disabilities. Participants will hear from small businesses about their experiences and learn about a new online resource to help them take action.

The network is funded through the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy in cooperation with The Viscardi Center. The Viscardi Center provides programs that educate, employ, and empower children and adults with disabilities.

Television with captions.
All TVs since the 1990’s have been built with the capacity to provide captions. Enabling captions on workplace TVs enables Deaf and Hard of Hearing employees to read what’s being said, and also allows staff to watch TV during breaks without disturbing others.

Registration is required for the  free “Small Business & Disability Employment: Steps to Success” webinar on Dec. 8, 1:00-2:00 Central Time.

Click here to register.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Governor recognizes Sign Shares at awards

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recognized Sign Shares, Inc. | International of Houston at the 2015 Lex Frieden Awards in Fort Worth on Oct. 21 for the Small Business Award.

The Governor’s Committee for People with Disabilities renamed the annual employment awards after civil right’s champion, Lex Frieden, who was “instrumental in conceiving and drafting the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).”

The Fort Worth Mayor’s Committee on Persons with Disabilities hosted the sold out event.

Governor Abbott speaks about Sign Shares.
Governor Abbott sent a video to the awards ceremony.

Though the governor couldn’t make the ceremony, Governor Abbott recognized Sign Shares in a captioned video, where he said, “These awards honor those who go above and beyond what is required to ensure that all Texans have a chance to put their skills and talents to use in the workplace.”

“Today I’m proud to help recognize the award winners . . . It includes Sign Shares International of Houston, where the entire staff focuses on ensuring full inclusion and raising awareness of accessibility issues in the community,” he said.

Sign Shares staff at awards (l-r): Christina Goebel, Eva Storey, and Anthony Butkovich
Sign Shares staff at awards (l-r): Christina Goebel, Eva Storey, and Anthony Butkovich

Sign Shares’ CEO, Eva Storey, was present to accept the award. Together with Storey were Sign Shares’ Executive Assistant Anthony Butkovich and Advocacy Community Projects Manager, Christina Goebel.

“We are proud to employ people with all disabilities and wish to inspire other companies to do the same as our company is here to guide both employee and employer through the process within such a deserving community,” Storey said.

Eva Storey and Christina Goebel concentrate on their speeches before taking the stage to accept the award.
Eva Storey and Christina Goebel prepare before speaking at the Lex Frieden Awards.

At the ceremony, Goebel thanked Storey and Butkovich for making her feel wanted, needed, and accepted with her deafness, and for the access and inclusion Sign Shares provides to staff.

If you are an entity that wishes to open the doors for people with disabilities,  contact Sign Shares’ offices at info@signshares.com .