How SignVote is advocating for Deaf and hard of hearing voters

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This year, SignVote’s slogan is “the election in ASL.” “That’s something that everyone can get onboard with,” Hanaumi said.

WDVM — Since 2016, the movement SignVote, formed by the Communication Service for the Deaf, has been mobilizing Deaf communities to the polls. The nonpartisan SignVote team and coalition members post videos to YouTube and social media with election information — how to register to vote, vote early, or vote by mail, for example — and more general information, like how the Electoral College functions. 

Leila Hanaumi, SignVote’s strategic engagement coordinator at Communication Service for the Deaf, says the U.S. election process is lacking in accessible information for Deaf and hard of hearing folks. The presidential and vice presidential debate, for example, didn’t have ASL interpreters on hand. DPAN.TV, a SignVote coalition partner, is providing interpreters and captioning on its own.

Then when Deaf or hard of hearing people go to the polls, they may not be able to understand what’s on the ballot. “When we talk about politics and the elections, all of this, for us, is in ASL, which then translates to the actual voting decision at the polls. But then when we get to the polls, it’s not in our language,” Hanaumi said. The alternatives? Voting online or ballots with ASL translation. Hanaumi says Arizona’s election commission partners with Arizona’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission to publish informational videos about what’s listed on the ballot. 

SignVote also reaches people through its weekly newsletter, which publishes updates from coalition members and community members personal posts to inspire others to vote. 

The Communication Service for the Deaf is based in Austin, Tx., but it serves thousands of people across the country. Hearing people can also advocate. Hanaumi says the minimum is a push for captioning. “Oftentimes on social media we see videos go viral — something about the election or about politics. So many times, even on my own feed, I see videos that are non-captioned. So I have to hunt down to try to find if maybe there is a caption version out there.” 

Before sharing a video online, ask yourself: is this content accessible? “If it isn’t,” Hanaumi suggests, “Find a captioned version or make it yourself. Try to think in that way — ‘If I share this, who’s going to be seeing this?’” 

This year, SignVote’s slogan is “the election in ASL.” “That’s something that everyone can get onboard with,” Hanaumi said. “Everyone can and should sign. We invite everyone to be open to learning sign and make sure that you include ASL every time possible.” 

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