I wrote the following as testimony on March 24, 2021 in support of HB 21-1014 championed by colleagues working with the Invisible Disabilities Association.
My name is Lisa Weiss and I am the director of advocacy programs for VALIDEAF, a national non-profit with a mission that serves the diverse deaf community. I am a proud native and resident of Colorado who has invisible disabilities myself. I am also a juvenile and disability rights attorney and education policy expert who has worked in public service for the last 22 years. I am writing in support of Colorado HB 21-1014 that will make a difference in helping save lives and raise awareness of people who are deaf or are living with disabilities, particularly those that are invisible or misunderstood.
As a person with invisible disabilities myself, I am concerned about others like me who may at times need accommodations related to physical access even though we may not appear to have a physical limitation to others. Living with a persistent medical condition does not always look like what people assume. It remains an unfortunate myth that all people with physical disabilities require a wheelchair. I have seen this in action when airlines pull up to the gate to assist my deaf colleagues with a wheelchair. I have also seen this in action when my friends with invisible illnesses are harassed for parking in spaces assigned specifically for them when they don’t exit the car with a wheelchair. The truth is that the person themself is in the best position to determine the accommodations and access that they require for their daily living, work, and community needs. Sometimes a person simply needs to park closer to the entrance of our workplace so that person doesn’t exhaust themselves before they start their workday. I worry about all of these people every day.
And as the mother of a young adult who was born Deaf, I cannot tell you how many people still ask me if Deaf people can drive. This is another persistent myth that is based on a cultural misunderstanding that hearing is necessary to be safe. It is not. But there are laws in place to ensure that peace officers take appropriate steps to communicate effectively with deaf people because access is the issue for safety. This obligation does include providing sign language interpreters and auxiliary aids, but beyond this there is a clear need for peace officers (and the general public) to understand how to communicate with members of a diverse deaf community.
This is where it gets tricky and I have found this problem to be twofold. One is based in a general misunderstanding about what it means to be deaf. I have found over the last 16 years as a mother navigating the world with a deaf child that there is a persistent myth that all deaf people only communicate using visual language. This is simply not true. The truth is that some deaf people only communicate with visual language. And these people need access to communication in the visual language that they prefer and are able to understand. The second is due to the lack of awareness about how prevalent deafness really is. I often wonder who in our world doesn’t know someone who is deaf (or going deaf) since I know that EVERYONE is becoming deaf. It is difficult for me to imagine knowing this and knowing that approximately 15% (or 37.5 million) American adults aged 18 and over report some trouble hearing and that one in eight people in the United States (13% or 30 million) aged 12 years or older has hearing loss in both ears, based on standard hearing exams. I worry about all of these people.
My point is, this bill is intended to promote awareness, to provide training, and to ensure the protection of our community. Not just for a few people, but for most people. It is important that the public servants who are called on to serve our community are able to do so and that means being able to identify needs and provide appropriate accessibility depending on the person, the circumstances, and the setting. I hope that this bill will move forward with due diligence and without undue interruption.
Peace and solidarity always,
Lisa A. Weiss, Esq.
Director of ValidADVOCACY Programs