- Watching the election debates as a deaf person without an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter present can lead them to feel excluded and ultimately uninformed.
- Many deaf people in the United States are eligible to vote but do not have access to important voting registration materials in ASL.
- On Wednesday, Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD) announced the launch of its SignVote campaign designed to help inform and increase voter engagement among the deaf community throughout the 2020 elections.
“Back in 2016 I remember watching the election debates and the captioning was so badly delayed that it wasn’t even matching up with the topics that were shown on-screen,” says Kriston Lee Pumphrey, Community Engagement Manager for Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD). “The myriad of controversial topics just made it a roller coaster ride of frustration. I remember thinking, ‘If only we could have live interpreters on-screen.’”
Lee Pumphrey isn’t alone in her frustrations. Although many laws have been passed guaranteeing the right to vote for those with physical impairments, there remain significant barriers to full participation in the electoral process for the more than 30 million deaf and hard of hearing American citizens. These hurdles include their ability to access information they need to make informed choices and exercise their full civic rights, which right now is relatively inaccessible.
“At the time I was working for the Deaf Professional Arts Network (DTV News) providing coverage in ASL,” says Lee Pumphrey. “Some of us took matters in our own hands and made the first-ever live-interpreted presidential debates on DPAN.TV. The response from the deaf communities was astoundingly positive, and we knew this was what people wanted to see.”
Making the voting process accessible
On Wednesday, the Communication Service for the Deaf announced the expansion of its SignVote campaign — designed to help inform and increase voter engagement among the deaf community throughout the 2020 elections. A nonpartisan platform, SignVote spotlights accessible voter content and resources for those who communicate using American Sign Language (ASL). It’s the world’s largest deaf-led social impact organization.
“The goal of SignVote is to promote greater participation and engagement from our community in the political process and to elevate awareness of key issues that impact a deaf person’s quality of life,” said Chris Soukup, the CEO of CSD. “We believe that continued organizing and advocacy will expand visibility of topics that are important to our community, which makes their inclusion in candidates’ disability plans more likely.”
“Every deaf person deserves the right to make fully-informed decisions as voters,” adds Lee Pumphrey. “SignVote provides an extensive ASL-based digital archive that will help eliminate some of the most fundamental barriers that deaf people still face today to full participation in the electoral process.”
According to CSD, many deaf people in the United States are eligible to vote but do not have access to important voting registration materials and elections information in ASL, their primary language, and many polling stations lack staff who are fluent in ASL. This creates, says CSD, a significant barrier to overall engagement and making informed choices throughout the election process.