Deaf in Detroit debate audience

Alex: A group of Deaf people went to the Democratic debates in Detroit. Sean Forbes and his team from DPAN was able to film some of it and will give an analysis of what it feels like to be a deaf person in the audience.


Sean Forbes: Let’s put aside politics. I want to discuss access to politics.

I was lucky to be invited to attend the Detroit Democratic national debates. Several members of our Michigan Deaf community were invited as well. And some from out of state, like D.T. Bruno, he flew in from New York. And from California, Nyle DiMarco.

First of all, creating access is not easy. The real reason I went was not for politics. But how can I make politics accessible for the Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing community through my role here at DPAN?

Back in 2016, DPAN.TV produced three presidential debates and made them accessible with over 500,000 viewers for each debate.

My experience here in Detroit was really amazing. The reason it was is because of the interpreters. The first night, we had two separate sections. The front section was for ASL users, with four interpreters alternating.

Behind me, we had a CART TV. So some people who wanted to watch it with captions were able to sit back there. ASL users sat in the front. But some people weren’t satisfied with that. So the second night they moved things around, and they had the CART and the interpreters side by side.

It was a better experience, but still, it was hard. The lights, the audience, how far we were from the stage, sometimes the interpreters were going back and forth and I really enjoyed watching that, but sometimes I didn’t know who was talking. So I had to look at the interpreters and look at the stage, but luckily, some of the candidates were a little more animated than others. Some were very monotone and some were very animated!

After both nights, members of the Deaf community discussed that it was a little bit easier to watch the debates at home with captions, going back and with sign language on TV. Moving forward, it’s my goal to make politics accessible. Doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat, Republican, Independent. I want to make politics accessible so that members of the Deaf community have an opportunity to be involved and can formulate their own opinions. Formulate their own political perspectives. Who knows? Maybe one day we’ll see one of those Deaf kids watching become President of the United States.

Thank you.