Public Venue Captions Coming to Washington State
Editor: You've met John Waldo and his Wash-CAP organization on these
pages before, so I thought you'd enjoy this update. John has made it his
goal to get access to captioning at many facilities in Washington State,
and he is succeeding! Could John's story be an inspiration for YOU to get
something going in your community?
Dear Wash-CAP members and friends,
As I suppose is true for a lot of folks, I've been pretty obsessed the
last few weeks with this historic Presidential election. As a result, my
correspondence has badly fallen behind.
I want to take this opportunity to welcome all of our new members, to
thank our members and friends for their support, and to update you on what
we have been able to accomplish in the past few months.
As you know, the dream behind the Washington State Communication Access
Project is to make Washington's public places and activities accessible to
those of us with hearing loss. We have taken a systematic approach,
focused on one type of facility at a time. We think such a focused
approach provides us with numerous advantages, among them being learning a
lot about the technologies and the specific vendors available to provide
the kind of aids and services we need.
We begin always by contacting the facility, explaining that
hard-of-hearing individuals are a large and growing population with
distinct needs, and asking them to work with us to meet those needs. Many
of the facilities have cooperated. If our first effort isn't successful,
the follow-up contact focuses more particularly on their legal obligations
and our legal rights under the Washington Law Against Discrimination,
which is a considerably more useful and powerful statute than the federal
Americans with Disabilities Act. We also point them to organizations and
vendors that can help them help us.
As a last resort, if the facility either refuses to cooperate or stops
communicating, we institute legal action. Even then, we do not ask for
damages, only for a court order directing the facility to do what we had
We determined that a logical place to begin our focused effort was with
live theaters. We started there because we know that even the
smallest-budget theaters can do something to improve the enjoyment of
hearing-impaired patrons, even if that something is as simple and
primitive as providing us with a script and a small flashlight to read
along as the play unfolds. We are asking the larger and larger-budget
theaters to provide captioned performances, where the dialogue and song
lyrics are displayed on a reader-board in synch with the play. A block of
seats is set aside in the area where the captioning is visible.
Here is our status report to date:
Seattle Paramount Theatre -- Paramount has presented captioned
performances of A Chorus Line, Phantom of the Opera and Spring Awakening.
On Dec. 28, a performance of Color Purple will be captioned. Paramount is
committed to captioning at least one performance of each of its Broadway
Seattle 5th Avenue Theatre -- 5th Avenue initially refused the caption
option, but reconsidered once Wash-CAP filed suit. Beginning in the
2009-10 season, 5th Avenue will caption at least one performance of each
of its seven annual productions. This year, 5th Avenue is offering scripts
in lighted binders, something we are asking them to continue doing after
it initiates captioning.
Intiman Theatre, Seattle Center -- The Seattle Center venues have been
extraordinarily cooperative and helpful. They have adopted the vision we
suggested of making Seattle Center a national model for accessiblity.
Given the different venue sizes and types of productions, it can serve as
a sort of laboratory to help determine which methods of providing access
are best suited technically and economically to particular situations.
Intiman has said it is reviewing all of its disability-access
approaches, and is looking for input from Wash-CAP as well as from other
organizations representing both the hearing-loss population and other
types of physical or sensory challenges.
Seattle Rep -- Another Seattle Center venue, Seattle Rep has committed
to an investigation of how best to undertake captioning. We put them
together with the New York-based Theatre Development Fund and its access
coordinator, Lisa Carling, who worked with both Paramount and 5th Avenue
to instigate their captioning efforts.
Seattle Arts and Lectures -- SAL is looking right now at captioning for
its author presentations. They promise to get back to us by the end of the
year, and we are optimistic that they will undertake that effort in the
Qwest and Safeco Fields -- We have asked both the Seahawks and Mariners
to display captioned versions of their public-address announcements on one
or more of the numerous stadium scoreboards. A federal judge in Maryland
just ordered the Washington Redskins football team to do just that, and we
are therefore hopeful that our local teams will cooperate without the need
for court action.
Washington State Ferries -- Though obviously not a live theater, we are
aware that WSF is undertaking a system-wide review of its operational and
capital needs, so we thought that if we wanted to improve accessibility,
we should act now.
We asked WSF to caption the public-address announcements it makes on
board its vessels and at its terminals. While some of those announcements
are routine -- things like the general welcoming announcement from the
Governor -- we were concerned about the specific announcements dealing
with things like lost objects, car-alarm systems activating, etc.
Unfortunately -- possibly due to personnel changes -- WSF either did
not receive or did not respond to some of our inquiries, and the whole
communications process stopped. We then filed court action -- a step that,
among other things, simply can't be ignored.
I am pleased to report that WSF has essentially surrendered. We are in
the process of trying to work out the exact language of a court order that
will end the legal proceedings, but essentially, WSF has agreed to
undertake a multi-step process as follows:
1) Immediately send out a Request for Information asking potential
vendors how best to go about providing captioned on-board and in-terminal
2) Share the responses with Wash-CAP and other advocacy organizations;
3) Based on the responses to the RFI and the feedback from advocacy
groups, draft a Request For Proposals asking for specific quotes on the
type of equipment necessary;
4) Install captioning equipment and systems on the Bainbridge boats for
a six-month trial;
5) If the trial is successful, develop an installation schedule for the
remainder of the system. If the trial is unsuccessful, devise another
means by which information delivered over the public-address systems can
be effectively communicated to passengers with hearing losses.
We believe our focused and systematic approach to advocacy is working,
thanks in no small part to our dedicated and knowledgeable Board of
Directors led by President Bert Lederer. But to increase our ability to
work on behalf of all of us, we need to grow our membership. If you are
not a member, please consider joining -- it costs nothing, and requires
only an email to me with the word "membership" in the subject line. Once
you are "on board," then we want you to let us know about the challenges
you face, and how you could envision Wash-CAP working on your behalf.
Please tell your friends about us as well.
As always, please feel free to get in touch with me at any time
(preferably by email) with any questions or comments. And please, check
out our website, www.wash-cap.com, to find out what we're up to.
Advocacy Director and Counsel
Washington State Communication Access Project