Community Spotlight: WVCDHH Initiatives
The mission of the West Virginia Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (WVCDHH) (link is external) is to advocate for, develop, and coordinate public policies, regulations, and programs to assure full and equal opportunity for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing in West Virginia.
WVCDHH has been working on two projects to address needs in the deaf and hard of hearing (D/HH) communities in West Virginia. A vehicle visor card was designed and distributed to deaf drivers in West Virginia to facilitate communication with law enforcement. Another WVCDHH initiative involves working with theaters to offer open captioned movie showings to the D/HH community.
Recently, WVCDHH Project Director Sarah Lowther answered some questions about these two projects.
Can you tell us how this project began?
The project began about three years ago after many D/HH citizens contacted us with concerns about being pulled over by law enforcement officers who did not know how to communicate with them. There were communication barriers between the citizens and law enforcement officers that led to unnecessary consequences for both parties. We had brainstorming sessions about how to improve this situation. After some research, we decided that a visor card would be the best option to assist in breaking down the communication barrier. An older visor card existed, but it was out of date. We wanted to make improvements to better support communication.
What other organizations collaborated on this project and what were their roles?
WVCDHH started this project with Disability Rights of WV (DR of WV) and the West Virginia Assistive Technology System (WVATS). With input from both groups, the project began to move forward. DR of WV and WVATS provided resources and ideas on creating the visor card. We also met with a WV State Police Officer, a WV Sherriff, and the President of the West Virginia Association of the Deaf. This meeting was very insightful because law enforcement officers were able to share their experiences, while getting the deaf perspective. This helped to make the visor card effective for both law enforcement officers and citizens. The visor card was created from all the combined ideas.
Later, DR of WV and WVATS helped to seek out grant opportunities to contribute to the cost of printing the visor cards. Regina Mayolo from WVATS submitted a proposal to the Mid-Atlantic ADA Center to request funding to print 3,000 visor cards. In September, WVATS received an ADA Leadership Network Innovation Award from the ADA Center for the project. DR of WV also provided funding for printing 1,000 visor cards.
How have you promoted the visor cards?
We promoted the visor cards through a local news channel, WOWK, to inform the community. The station included a short piece on the visor cards during the evening news. We also promoted through our social media (Facebook) by creating a video (link is external) in ASL with captions to show the visor card and provide information on its use. We asked other organizations and citizens to spread the word about the visor cards by sharing the video and posts.
We also worked with Fahlgren Mortine, our state contracted marketing and communication company, to make an official video for the visor cards. The video shows two scenarios of being pulled over by a law enforcement officer. The first is the worst case scenario; the second shows a better outcome with use of the visor card. The video was filmed at the end of 2017 and is almost complete. It will be published as soon as the film crew finish the editing. We will promote this new video on social media and hope to include it in training sessions for law enforcement officers in the future.
Do you have any feedback or outcomes from this project?
After posting the video about the visor cards, requests for over 300 cards were received in the span of two days. So far, nearly 1,000 cards have been distributed to individuals and organizations. We have heard from both D/HH citizens and law enforcement officers that the visor card has been very beneficial. We’ve also heard that people were happy that the visor card mentioned a concealed weapon permit. They felt that notifying a law enforcement officer of a concealed weapon could be a life-saving situation.
Do you have any other similar projects in the works?
We are brainstorming about creating visor cards for Emergency Medical Services to communicate with patients. Also, we are discussing creating an American Sign Language version of the reading of Miranda Rights.
Open Captioned Movies
[Open captioned movies display captions directly on the screen and are visible to the entire audience; individual audience members do not need to request or use any additional decoding technology or seat-based devices to view captions.]
Can you tell us about this program and how it came about?
We had received complaints from D/HH citizens about the lack of accommodation in movie theaters. We did research and surveyed movie theaters about which accommodations, if any, were provided. Surprisingly, most of the theaters had accessible devices, but many people did not have positive experiences using them. The devices did not work properly or did not work at all. Sometimes, the movie theater staff did not know how to operate the devices or did not want to set them up. These situations did not allow the D/HH people to enjoy going to the movies.
We evaluated many ways to provide better access for D/HH people, and we found that most would prefer open captioned movies. We contacted Regal Cinemas to request showings of open captioned films. The process was easy, so we have been offering at least one movie per month in open captioned format. We try to pick a movie that most people will enjoy or will be very popular.
How are these open captioned movie showings promoted in the community?
We promoted the open captioned movies through a local news channel, WOWK. The channel announced our first movie in April 2017. We also promote our open captioned movies through Facebook and other social media to keep the information up to date for the community. We post “save the date” flyers in advance so that people can make plans to attend, and we post reminders the week before the movie. WVCDHH staff usually attends the movies as well.
Have the theaters been receptive to adding this service?
Regal Cinemas has been very receptive to our requests. We send them an email to request the movie. We provide a preferred date and time for the movie, and they have accommodated us each time. Regal has only asked that we give at least ten days’ notice and guarantee that at least ten people will attend. Our highest attendance was over fifty people!
Are their plans to expand this elsewhere in the state?
We have focused in our area (Charleston, WV), but other communities in the state have asked us to contact other theaters to set this up. We are working to spread awareness about the importance of open captioned movies. We have also offered to assist other people in setting up movie showings in their own area.
What have you heard from the D/HH community on this initiative?
We have had very positive feedback from the D/HH communities. We’ve been told that people were able to enjoy the movies without any distractions or having to deal with the assistive devices. We have tried to coordinate the scheduling of the movie showings with the release dates of new movies. This allows the D/HH community to see new movies at the same time as everyone else. We have also set up additional movie showings by request, when a group of people want to see a movie other than the one we have chosen for the month.
Tell us your story! Do you have a program or project in your community that has made an impact on accessibility and inclusion? Let us know!
NDEAM: Get Involved!
Every year the month of October is observed as National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), with a variety of activities designed to celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities and raise awareness about the value of inclusive workplaces.
Last October, the Mid-Atlantic ADA Center and its parent organization, TransCen, Inc. (TCI), (link is external) together with the Maryland Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS), (link is external) supported NDEAM by hosting a training seminar on disclosure and reasonable accommodations. Following the seminar, TCI staff conducted mock interviews and DORS staff offered one-on-one opportunities for job seekers with disabilities to discuss resume writing, interview preparation, and job search strategies.
Recently, we asked TCI President Laura Owens and DORS Program Manager Darlene Peregoy for their thoughts on these activities, as well as other efforts to support NDEAM and disability inclusion.
Why did you think it was important to put resources into this type of event?
a man and a woman sit across a desk from each other, shaking hands
LO: First, employment of people with disabilities is critically important if we want all citizens to be assimilated into our communities. By supporting NDEAM, we are supporting our mission – to improve the lives of people with disabilities through meaningful work and community inclusion. TCI and the Mid-Atlantic ADA Center are committed to this mission and this event allows us to roll up our sleeves and put action to our words. Truthfully, I wish every month were NDEAM, and that someday we won’t need NDEAM. That would mean that people with disabilities are naturally included in our workplaces and communities.
DP: Job seekers with disabilities need to know what businesses are looking for in the application and interview process, and how applicants can best highlight their knowledge, skills, and abilities for employers. Mock interviews are very valuable because they offer an opportunity to practice interviewing with professionals who can provide feedback to help hone skills, gain confidence, and be better prepared for real job interviews. It is also very important for job seekers to know their rights and responsibilities in terms of disclosing their disabilities and requesting accommodations. The participants are now better prepared for their next interview, as well as how to engage in the interactive process of requesting accommodations when they need them.
How do you see NDEAM helping to educate businesses on the importance of employing people with disabilities?
LO: Like any minority group, when you spotlight them it brings inequities to light. NDEAM highlights that individuals with disabilities are a viable source of labor. It provides us with the opportunity to find examples of people with disabilities contributing to the workforce and tell their stories. It also brings to mind how any of us, at any time, can become a member of this minority group. We forget that we can become a part of the disability community at any time, and that customers, co-workers, and family members may acquire a disability. NDEAM also allows employers to hear stories of other businesses hiring individuals with disabilities, which may lead them to look at applicants with disabilities with different eyes – looking beyond disabilities and seeing how they can contribute to businesses and communities.
DP: NDEAM is nationally recognized as a time during the year when disability inclusion is both celebrated and encouraged. Many businesses are open to collaborating on various NDEAM activities during this time, so it presents an opportunity to engage businesses through a variety of activities focused on both businesses and job seekers with disabilities. Many times activities such as staff training on the ADA and disability awareness, career information sessions, job shadowing, internships, and mock interview sessions are catalysts for opening doors and improving disability inclusion in the workplace.
What role do you think businesses have in hiring people with disabilities?
LO: Businesses have, obviously, a huge role in hiring people with disabilities. Businesses already have customers who have disabilities. People with disabilities have huge buying power, as do their friends and families. Additionally, studies show that 87% of the general population purchase goods and services from businesses that hire people with disabilities. This indicates that the general population sees people with disabilities as having an impact within the business community. Businesses play a huge role in seeing that hiring continues to happen.
DP: Businesses need talent to achieve their goals and fuel success. People with disabilities are an often overlooked source of talent due to misconceptions and stereotypes. However, many people with disabilities have the same or similar educational backgrounds, skills, and experiences as their non-disabled peers.
Businesses often reduce their hiring costs when they hire employees with disabilities. Retention rate statistics show that between 70-80% of employees with disabilities will still be working with the same employer one year after hire. And many businesses also report improved morale when they become more inclusive workplaces.
So the primary role of a business is to create a welcoming and inclusive environment that will attract and retain the talent that the business needs, including people with disabilities.
What two things would you advise businesses to do to move toward employing people with disabilities?
LO: Businesses should think about disability as part of their entire diversity policy. Often disability is an afterthought. We want businesses to understand the needs of co-workers, customers, and others with disabilities. Businesses can also look at ways to recruit individuals with disabilities by reaching out to schools, state vocational rehabilitation programs, and local adult service providers. Businesses can interview these organizations and find out what types of supports the organizations offer and how they can meet the needs of businesses. Looking at these organizations as any other service vendor is important. I would encourage businesses to have an open door policy that encourages the recruitment and hiring of people with disabilities.
DP: Education is always a good first step. Businesses may have concerns or want additional information on disability and employment topics. There are many resources with information on recruiting, hiring, and retaining employees with disabilities. DORS Business Relations Branch can point businesses in the right direction and also provide training on many disability-related topics, as well as connect them to qualified job seekers.
Secondly, talk with other businesses who can share their disability inclusion success stories. One way to do this is to connect to the U.S. Business Leadership Network (link is external) or a local affiliate, such as the DC Metro Business Leadership Network. This is an employer-led non-profit that helps businesses drive performance by leveraging disability inclusion in the workplace, supply chain, and marketplace.
Where can they get additional information on TCI, DORS, and NDEAM? How can they get more involved in October 2018?
LO: Employers should not be afraid to reach out to TCI, state vocational rehabilitation agencies, or schools, and say “I want to learn more about what you do.” They do not need to wait until October. TCI and other organizations are ready, willing and able to assist businesses in hiring people with disabilities.
DP: The DORS Business Relations Branch is available to provide a number of services to businesses, including recruitment and pre-screening of qualified candidates, free ADA and disability awareness training, consultations on options and solutions for reasonable accommodations, and technical assistance for accessing hiring incentives.
We are always looking for ways to partner with businesses on NDEAM activities. Call 410-554-9408 or visit us online to learn more about how DORS can help you build your business. (link is external)
Other vocational rehabilitation agencies which offer services to employers and job seekers with disabilities in the Mid-Atlantic region:
As always, call us here in the Mid-Atlantic ADA Center or reach other regional ADA Centers by dialing toll-free, 800-949-4232. We are here to answer your questions and provide free, confidential information and guidance on employment, reasonable accommodations, and other ADA issues.