After more than 90 years of advocacy for individuals, in 2017, Bridges for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing turned its attention to systems change advocacy, powerful, community-led work that seeks to create change for our entire community by removing systemic barriers and creating the opportunity to build new systems that are more just and inclusive. The vibrant Deaf and hard of hearing community identifies the systemic barriers, and we invite stakeholders from all perspectives and levels of involvement to Town Hall meetings were our role, as an agency, is to facilitate open, respectful, and meaningful dialogue that enriches us, informs, and moves us forward. From these Town Halls, we identify potential solutions or strategies, from educational efforts to policy work to legislation, and then create the groundwork to achieve the vision we desire. To date, we have hosted Town Halls on Law Enforcement, Public Transportation, and Deaf Education. We are currently planning Town Halls on Mental Health Access and Prisons/Criminal Justice.
Equal Access on the Ballot
On the ballot for the November 8, 2022 were four proposed Constitutional Amendments to the Tennessee Constitution. Bridges for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing partnered with the Tennessee Secretary of State and Disability Rights TN to make the language of the proposed amendments available in American Sign Language--for the first time ever! We were excited to be a part of creating this historic step in equal access.
Town Hall on Mental Health, Substance Abuse, & Supported Housing
On October 6, 2022, Bridges for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing hosted a Town Hall that included mental health and program providers and members of the D/deaf and hard of hearing communities. After a foundational training and introduction, we led a facilitated dialogue and role play, leaving our three-hour meeting with agreement on key action steps: adding communication assessments to intake processes, increasing training to staff in these critical programs, exploring co-location of mental health professionals, identifying future members of regional councils who make recommendations to the Commissioner for Mental Health, and advocating for increased funding to make these services available and accessible to our communities.
On July 12, 2019, during Game Day we celebrated our Legislative Heroes--state representatives and senators who were the prime sponsors of the #WordsMatter and #DeafDriverSafety bills that became laws. Pictured with some of our lovely community members, from left to right, are Rep. William Lamberth, Sen. Ferrell Haile, and Rep. Jason Powell. We are grateful for their support and hard work!
UPDATE: This bill was passed and then signed by Governor Lee on May 8, 2019!
In the 2019 session of the Tennessee General Assembly, Bridges for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing has introduced an important bill through sponsors Rep. Jason Powell and Senator Steve Dickerson. This bill, HB1406/SB1419, changes all references to "hearing impaired" or "hearing impairment" in Tennessee Annotated Code (TN law) to "deaf or hard of hearing" or "hearing loss."
This important legislation respects the cultural and linguistic community that is our Deaf community and removes the stigma of impairment or brokenness from all our Deaf and hard of hearing community. While "hearing impairment" was originally introduced into the lexicon in an attempt to be polite or politically correct, the language continues to imply a brokenness or "less than" status that does not accurately reflect who we are and all we can do.
This change also empowers us to define ourselves rather to accept label given to us by people outside our community.
As we continue to advocate for the rights of the Deaf and hard of hearing and to educate the rest of the world on our history and equality, words are powerful. They help shape our understanding and perceptions of one another, and they set the foundation for important conversations that help us all move forward together. Words do matter.
We are thankful for our sponsors and look forward to seeing this bill become a law!
Deaf Driver Safety
Bridges for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing's system-change advocacy led to passage of the Deaf Driver Safety law that went into effect on July 1, 2018. In November 2017, we hosted a Town Hall on Law Enforcement, half the room filled with our Deaf and hard of hearing community and the other half with law enforcement from Middle Tennessee. With ground rules, we facilitated an open conversation that allowed both communities to share priorities, misunderstandings, concerns, and experiences. We then identified a key issue—how to make interactions more safe and effective, particularly during traffic stops. From that conversation and the individuals in the room came the idea for the Deaf Driver Safety database, the simple addition of a field to the vehicle insurance database all law enforcement accesses during traffic stops. Deaf and hard of hearing individuals could voluntarily register for the database accessible in all 95 counties.
Open Caption Movies
Update: In 2022, AMC announced that all new release films would be shown in open caption at least once a week at their theaters! We continue to host special open caption showings but are thrilled at this success and at being a small part of the nationwide association of individuals and groups who pushed to make it happen!
Movies are one of the experiences people from all walks of life share, regardless of gender, race, socioeconomic status, religion, and political party, share. Movies are sometimes the only thing we have in common, a safe topic of conversation, a pop culture hallmark. It's not an experience shared by the Deaf and hard of hearing. Technology in recent years has introduced "caption glasses," which were a huge leap forward, but the glasses still separate one, often don't fit, and frequently die or break during the movie. There also aren't enough for a large group trying to see a movie together. We have been working with the local AMC Theatres to provide open caption showings, and partner theatres have shown one new release in open caption each week. We recently made strides with Regal Cinemas as well, so our hope is that we can make movies a more inclusive and accessible experience for all.
In July 2018, we hosted a Town Hall on Deaf Education in Middle Tennessee, inviting students, former students, community members, parents, educators, and policymakers to join us. We had a robust and sometimes-challenging conversation, leading us to identify some key areas where smaller work groups will continue to work toward best practices, policy changes, and legislative initiatives, affecting education from birth through high school.
In January 2018, we hosted a Town Hall on Public Transportation, working with MTA, AccessRide, Uber, Lyft, taxi services, and others to identify challenges in public transportation. As we brainstormed longer-term solutions, we also identified specific communication challenges, some that escalated to confrontation and arrest. We also identified significant misconceptions and assumptions. Following the Town Hall, we assisted MTA with ADA trainings for all employees, even providing a Train the Trainer exercise. We helped review policies, facilitate conflict resolution meetings, and designed a new communication tool for their use.
UPDATE: BILL PASSED AND HAS BEEN SIGNED INTO LAW BY GOVERNOR HASLAM! Senate Bill 0524 is sponsored by Senator Becky Duncan Massey. House Bill 0462 is sponsored by Representative Roger Kane. As introduced, this bill requires the State Board of Education to promulgate rules to adopt and implement books and curriculum for American sign language courses to satisfy foreign language requirements. - Amends TCA Title 49, Chapter 6, Part 10.
This video shares information on how you can communicate with legislators to make your ideas and opinions known. They want and need to hear from you!