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Podcast Recap: “Making Communication A Priority for the Deaf Community” 

June 5, 2024

Podcast Recap: “Making Communication A Priority for the Deaf Community” 

June 5, 2024
June 5, 2024

How do you raise a Deaf child for success? What was life like for deaf people before the days of TTY? What laws are impacting technology accessibility today? Read below to catch the insightful interview of Christopher Soukup, CEO of Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD) by Joyce Bender for the Disability Matters Podcast. 

Christopher opens with his story of being raised in South Dakota as a deaf member of a deaf family, an experience that many deaf people do not share. He also recounts his experiences living in both deaf and hearing worlds through mainstream education. “90% of deaf children are born to hearing families, and if the families have had no prior exposure or engagement with the deaf community, their (deaf child) tend to have more challenging experiences in terms of their sense of identity.” 

He further attributes his success to the large support at home that counterbalanced his challenges, which led to the defining experiences at Gallaudet University that solidified his Deaf identity. He continues, “My heart goes out to deaf children who are mainstreamed and don’t have the same level of support and understanding at home.” 

Joyce switches gears to discuss the deaf community at large, particularly its history before the emergence of accessible communication technologies. “What was it like for the community before Teletypewriters (TTY)?” She asks. 

“Before the TTY, deaf people really had no way to make a phone call.” Christopher replies. “They had no way to use telecommunication systems at all and were completely dependent on neighbors, family, and friends to make calls for them.” 

This was all to change when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title IV was passed in 1991 to mandate telephone and TV access for people with hearing and speech disabilities. “It allowed for the adoption and facilitation of relay services that would allow a TTY user to call a contact center, and an agent would be available to receive the TTY inbound call and make a voice call outbound to anybody who the deaf individual want to call.” Christopher explains. “This was so liberating for the deaf community to be able to for the very first time in the history make calls anywhere using the relay service as a facilitator. The ADA, Title IV was very, very important to the community and it ushered in a completely new era of communication access.” 

It did not just stop there with the TTY, however. Technological advancements would appear on the horizon that would transform the community again: The advent of video technologies.  

“Let's keep going. Let's keep innovating.” Chris recalls. “And so, in the late 1990s CSD did the first video relay service trials. In 2002, CSD became the first nationwide provider of video relay services. A mindset that we have never lost.” Christopher then shares his beliefs which underlines core values of CSD: “We continue to kind of challenge the conventional thinking around what's possible. And to confront barriers and to relentlessly pursue better accessibility, better access to opportunities and a greater quality of life for deaf and disability communities.” 

When Joyce asked Christopher about the Communications and Video Technology Act (CVTA), he summarizes that CVTA was intended to be an update to the ADA, Title IV, to include new and emerging technologies that benefits deaf and broader disability communities. “We are asking that our laws be forward-looking, so that there is an expectation that companies who are developing technologies to make them inclusive from the beginning. And so that's the intent and the underlying premise of the CTVA.” 

The CTVA, since its passage in 2010, continues to be critical point of discussion for technology accessibility for all deaf and broader disability communities. To learn more about CTVA, or to contact your legislator about the bill, please visit s.csd.org/cvta. 

The interview also touches upon other topics crucial to the deaf community; health, mental well-being, and funds to support living, and how they are tied into CSD’s consortium of services to support those topics, such as 988 Crisis Lifeline and CSD Social Venture Fund. Christopher shares various examples of how lives were impacted due to these services, which struck a chord in Joyce. The interview concludes far too soon with promises of a second round in the future. We hope and look forward to the day it happens! 

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