Today Caption Action 2 was privileged to join the National Association of the Deaf Board of Directors on their visits to Congressional representatives as part of the NAD Virtual Legislative Day in support of HR 3101.
Shane Feldman, and Sean Gerlis (morning) and Michael Berger (afternoon) and myself met with staff for representatives from the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet.
Rep. John Dingell
The first meeting was with a staff person in representative John Dingell's (Michigan) office. The room we were supposed to use was not available, so we went to the cafeteria to hold our meeting. The staff person had some questions which were expected, and we had answers ready for him. Shane shared a story about how he was not able to help his hearing child with video on the Internet. I told my "And Your Name is Jonah" experience from the early teen years. Sean talked about his family with a strong deaf heritage. We left feeling that the staff person was not that enthusiastic about HR 3101.
Rep. Rick Boucher
Here' s where things began to get interesting. Capitol Hill is a place where you can just walk into any office, so we did just that! As we were walking around talking and tweeting, I looked up and saw we were right in front of Representative Rick Boucher's (VA) office! Boucher is, as you know, the chairperson of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, so we went into the office to talk to the staff. I mentioned to the staff that I had corresponded with someone in the office but could not remember who. The desk person went and got someone from her office - Amy Levine! Amy Levine is the key person in Rick Boucher's office. The three of us talked briefly with Levine, who said something a bit odd: she said something about not wanting to move the bill to the floor because they did not want to move a bill that might be defeated?? Say what?? We left Boucher's office a bit puzzled.
Rep. Kathy Castor
We also met with a staff person in representative Kathy Castor's (FL) office. The person the team had an appointment with was not available, so another staff person met with us. This staff person did not know about HR 3101 so we spent the appointment time educating her about it. It was hard to gauge her level of enthusiasm but she took a lot of notes. When I mentioned Caption Action 2, she wrote down the URL for the Facebook page. She also mentioned that they were pretty focused on jobs at the moment, so I brought up the fact that HR 3101 could create jobs for real-time (live) captioners.
Seth Gerlis from iDeafNews joined us in Castor's office, and did some videoing of us. Don't know when the iDeafNews report on the NAD Board visit to Capitol Hill will air on YouTube.
Rep. Gerry Connolly
We had some extra time, so before heading to lunch we stopped in our own representative's office - Gerry Connolly (VA). I asked for Dominic, but he was out, so we met on the spot with Matthew. Matthew listened to us with an open mind, and it was very helpful for me to have the NAD there with me this time!
After a much-needed lunch (walking around Capitol Hill makes a person hungry!) we met up with two more staff officers. The first one was in representative Mike Rogers (MI) office and the second in representative Marsha Blackburn (TN) office.
Rep. Mike Rogers
We didn't have to convince the staff person in Mike Rogers' office of the importance of HR 3101. Instead, HE was the one talking about how important it was! HE was the one talking about how sometimes government intervention is necessary because in this case, "the marketplace has failed." Shane declared that his words were "music to his eyes." (Mine too!) And this is from a Republican representative's office!
We discussed the history behind HR 3101 - why we got the Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990 for captioning chips, and why we got the Telecommunications Act of 1996 for captioning on TV. However, now that TV has moved to the Internet, we are behind again! As I declared, "history is repeating itself." Will Rogers sign on to HR 3101? All we can do is wait and see! It was such a positive meeting that at the end I exclaimed "I wish we could clone you!"
Rep. Marsha Blackburn
Our team's final meeting was in rep Marsha Blackburn's (TN) office. The staff person there seemed concerned about potential cost, so we explained how the cost was minimal - just the reformatting of captions from regular TV, for the Internet. I brought up the example of PBS, which Caption Action 2 blogged about not long ago. We also discussed Hulu's voluntary but unfortunately limited, captioning. (Limited because Hulu can not always get the captions from the broadcasters.) As we were leaving, the staff person was saying he would review HR 3101. I told him that compared to the 1200+ page health care bill, HR 3101 was only 44 pages. He looked pretty glad to hear that!
Rep. Fred Upton
As the meeting with Blackburn's office started and ended early, I suggested a last stop at rep. Fred Upton's (MI) office. Upton had earlier given some indications of possibly being supportive. A staff person there was willing to talk with us for a bit. Shane did most if not all the talking.
Other Team Visits
The other NAD Board member teams visited rep. Joe Barton's (TX) office, rep Anna Eshoo, rep Christopher Murphy (CT) , rep John Shadegg (AZ), rep GK Butterfield (NC), rep Lee Terry (NE), rep John Shimkus (IL), rep Steve Buyer (IN), Peter Welch (VT), and of course rep Rick Boucher (VA). Plus there was another meeting with office of rep Jay Inslee (WA), who is supportive of deaf and hard of hearing people.
At all the meetings, I mentioned Caption Action 2 as an example of how many people want to see this bill pass. The staff seemed impressed when I told them how many members we have now (over 13,500) and how it is growing now by an average of one new member an hour! I think I saw a few eyes widen. They were clearly beginning to see just how important HR 3101 is to the deaf and hard of hearing community. (At each meeting, we also brought up how others also benefit - blind people, autistic people, people learning English as a second language, and children learning to read).
After the NAD Board headed out for a board meeting, I stayed on Capitol Hill for a little while longer. A nice staff person printed out the House Energy and Commerce membership list for me, and I used a wall directory to quickly locate additional members in the Cannon house building. Then I visited those members' offices to drop off postcards about HR 3101.
Most offices were just hello and drop off info, but in the office of rep. Zack Space I met the staff person who had corresponded with her earlier. She mentioned the FCC National Broadband Plan, implying HR 3101 might not be needed. I reminded her that although Chapter 9 of the Broadband Plan is largely based on HR 3101, the FCC does not have any real authority over the Internet! That is why we need HR 3101. Plus, she remembered the earlier Caption Action 2 blog post about Space from December 2009! She told me that after that blog post had appeared, her office had gotten several emails! Caption Action 2 readers ARE having an impact. And, she told me that she uses Google to find blogs that post about her boss. If she is doing that, that means other Hill offices are probably doing the same thing! So if you blog about HR 3101, be sure to mention your own representative's name - it will get noticed by his or her office thanks to Google!
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