A bird’s-eye view of disability leadership in Chicago

By LeAnn M. Hibler

Sometimes as a CART captioner, it is just an honor to write a job and have a bird’s-eye view of an event, so when my colleague asked me if I wanted to work an event promoting disability leadership, I jumped at the chance. It was a conversation between two long-time friends, Marca Bristo and Judith Heumann.

Judith Heumann acquired her disability due to polio when she was a young girl growing up in Brooklyn. As she matured into a young adult in the 1950s and 1960s, she faced both attitudinal and physical barriers in society. Through the years, she has engaged in activities to improve the lives of others nationally and internationally, including serving in the Clinton and Obama administrations and with the World Bank organization. Her most recent project, “The Heumann Perspective,” hopes to bring attention and spur discussion on disability rights through social media platforms.

I worked the assignment as an independent contractor for my colleague and fellow captioner Cathy Rajcan, RDR, CRR, CRC, owner of Efficiency Reporting. The Chicago-area CRCs have great professional, supportive relationships and work together to ensure that the people who need our services have a qualified captioner for their events.

Cathy provided me with an electronic copy of the program from which I was able to pull names of presenters and sponsors and add them to my job dictionary prior to the event.

I used Text on Top, which overlays the captions on the same screen as the PowerPoints. This was Cathy’s equipment, so I needed to meet with her prior to the event and get it from her. It is not unusual for us to share our equipment with one another, whether it’s an LCD projector and screen or the Text on Top device. Finding time to meet may seem like an inconvenience, but it actually forces us to take some time to get together face-to-face and visit, which is a rarity with our busy schedules. Cathy provided me with her settings for the Text on Top so I could mirror the way she had done it in the past.

The need for captioning has grown significantly as more people learn about the various ways it can be used to bring communication access to the world, whether it’s on-site or remote, stationary or mobile. The demand has certainly grown beyond the supply of providers we have. I would encourage all the realtime court reporters out there to consider using their unique skill on the captioning side of things to provide access to all, including people with hearing loss, people whose native language is not English, or even those of us who are not paying attention and need to look at the captions as a refresher!

Chicago has so many people who were and still are instrumental in the disability rights movement, including two amazing women who were involved with my event: Marca Bristo, President and CEO of Access Living, a Center for Independent Living; and Karen Tamley, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. As an on-site CART captioner, I am often embedded in the disability community, and I love hearing stories about their involvement, whether it was at the University of California–Berkley or Washington, D.C. I’m impressed by folks who took their lives into their hands and blocked buses to bring attention to transportation disparities or even recently participated in sit-ins on Capitol Hill to shine a light on proposed Medicaid changes that would have had dire consequences for many disabled individuals. They’ve even been arrested for the cause!

The takeaways are that people with disabilities deserve to participate in the world the same as able-bodied people, yet they have to continue to fight for equal rights, such as the right to make decisions about where and how they live their lives. People are often afraid of the unknown when it comes to interacting with a person with a disability, but I encourage all of us to look not at the disability, but rather see them as people with intelligence and personality.

LeAnn M. Hibler, RMR, CRR, CRC, is a CART captioner in Joliet, Ill. She can be reached at lmhreporting@aol.com.