One million deaf Americans’ votes up for grabs – but often ignored | Brattleboro Reformer

When deaf Americans discuss the 2024 White House candidates, some of them use a sign representing the president’s classic aviator sunglasses to refer to Joe Biden, or make a gesture mimicking Donald Trump’s signature comb-over hairstyle.

But experts say many of the approximately one million deaf and hard-of-hearing American Sign Language (ASL) users in the United States may not be participating in politics at all, due to the inaccessibility of campaigns.

In a country where the last two presidential races were decided by only tens of thousands of votes, the group represents a potentially significant but untapped voting bloc.

“The most important thing is for deaf people to feel like members, not visitors, in (this) country,” said Brendan Stern, a political science professor at Gallaudet University in Washington, the world’s only liberal arts university for deaf students.

Deaf people need to “feel like citizens,” he told AFP through an interpreter. “And for that to happen, (we) need not only access, but meaningful engagement across differences.”

Presidential campaigns that receive federal funding are legally required to caption their ads, but captions can be glitchy or inaccurate, and most candidates don’t hire interpreters for live events.

And captions do not always provide sufficient access. ASL is its own language separate from English, with its own grammar, word order and idioms.

When deciding who to support, deaf voters may be interested in candidates’ stances on issues related to their disability, such as funding for specialist schools, but they are focused on the same issues other Americans care about too.

– ‘I’d rather understand it myself’ –

Danielle Previ, a 35-year-old clinical psychologist who is deaf, said she is most concerned with politicians’ views on women’s rights, but that events such as candidate debates can be hard to follow.

With captions “I feel like I’m missing information, because it’s going so fast, the back-and-forth,” Previ told AFP.

“I just don’t like the idea of… asking my (hearing) partner, ‘What’s up? Fill me in,'” she added. “I’m very independent. I’d rather understand it myself.”

Deaf journalist Alex Abenchuchan from Michigan wanted to bridge that information gap, and began presenting a news show in ASL called “The Daily Moth” on YouTube in 2015.

“There are some deaf individuals that are very conservative and some deaf individuals that are very liberal,” Abenchuchan said of his viewers. “It’s a huge range.”

Those preferences can be expressed in the sign names chosen to refer to politicians: the sign for Biden’s aviators is most often deployed by fans of the president, and the hair sign for Trump is most often used by his detractors.

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