SayWhatClub Online Voices January 2011
Interview with the founder of Collaborative for Communication Access via Captioning
by Michele Linder
Lauren E. Storck, PhD is the founder of Collaborative for Communication Access via Captioning (CCAC), a grassroots not-for-profit captioning advocacy community working for inclusion of text for spoken language wherever needed.
SWC: First of all, let me congratulate you and your organization on celebrating its one-year anniversary this past December 19th. Can you tell me a little bit about how Collaborative for Communication Access via Captioning came about, and what led to its creation?
Lauren: Thanks for the congrats. It's been a labor of love, and also very time-consuming behind the scenes. I enjoy meeting new people and taking on this challenge. The CCAC came about because there is no other advocacy group with this one theme that we know about.
SWC: What one theme are you referring to?
Lauren: The CCAC has one focus, one theme which is "Advocating for inclusion of quality captioning universally." This means we focus on the task, albeit in different ways (by individuals, by group action, by collaboration with other groups). There are many other good groups which advocate for other resources, or for a variety of choices, always desirable, yet the CCAC has our one theme. We are not aware of any other captioning advocacy groups per se, are you?
SWC: No, I'm not aware of any other advocacy group that focuses solely on captioning. When reading through the CCAC website, the phrase “One theme, one focus, lots of energies” caught my eye, as it made clear to me what your organization was all about. Is this what sets CCAC apart from other groups that advocate for captioning and CART (real-time captioning)?
Lauren: Yes! Many established organizations advocate for captioning over many years, yet those groups all have wider agendas, or advocate across disabilities. For example, National Association of the Deaf (NAD) has attorneys on staff who do great advocacy formally, for several different issues, and other associations also. However, CCAC focuses on captioning advocacy exclusively, with all approaches welcome for this one theme. CCAC is also all volunteers, and CCAC aims for "group action" wherever possible.
SWC: Let’s go back to what you were saying just before I interrupted ... You were telling us how CCAC came about and what led you to create it.
Lauren: I was inspired by my own inherited hearing loss, and by many others. To mention only a few: the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT) team was an inspiration as a "coalition" of organizations, most with paid staff, and in D.C. Their focus is telecommunications only, and goal is access for all disabilities, yet the "coalition" idea is parallel to our "collaborative of individuals" in the CCAC. My professional career in group work, e.g. "leading from behind" and favoring true grass-roots participation was another ingredient. While some state projects were getting off the ground, it seemed to me that some sort of national effort was needed also (CCAC is now international due to spreading interest). My memberships over the years in ALDA, HLAA, and NAD inspired me to think about how to focus on my language needs (CART/captions) and not "all" resources, which I fully endorse personally, yet felt that a group effort for captioning alone was really needed. After conferring with a few colleagues, my family, and a few others, I launched the CCAC online on December 19th, 2009. We were eight people to begin with. Now we have over 200 members and aim for many more! Why not? It's free, and does not compete or conflict with hearing loss and deaf groups. CCAC is for all, and is a voluntary advocacy group.
SWC: What do you consider CCAC's biggest success in this first year of existence?
Lauren: Let me think, this is a good question! Perhaps as a new group, the most exciting success was the enthusiasm generated during the first year from volunteer efforts online and with a huge number of donated energies to spread the word. We talk about "building bridges" among members of so many different worthy organizations. The small group grew quickly over the first 12 months. On a more concrete level, it’s a success almost every week. The group has consumers and providers sharing dilemmas, exchanging information about many situations where captioning is needed or newly included. We seem to attract new advocates or those wanting to learn more every week. For one example, the information shared about captioning for live theater performances has been most helpful to some CCAC consumer members doing wonderful advocacy locally in their own parts of the country. I must add two more small examples: a member was able to obtain CART for an important court experience, thanks to support in the CCAC; and another member was able to request CART for a large professional conference for the first time in his life, not a small achievement. These individual success stories are numerous already. In year two, we aim for more group efforts in the CCAC also, and in collaboration with other groups. (One other aim of the CCAC initially was to create the first public online documentation for all captioning and CART advocacy going on currently, anyplace; this is slow-going; advocates do not have time to use the online forms on the website perhaps. It's a future goal, unless anyone knows of another group collecting this important information.)
SWC: What types of projects are you working on currently?
Lauren: For year two, CCAC is excited to offer a new program, a "work in progress" of course, to extend our volunteer efforts via education and advocacy this way -- CCAC consumer members will be eligible for a free hour of CART or captioning, depending on the situation, thanks to the generosity of CCAC provider members. As the year progresses, CCAC members will be working on this effort together online. Another advocacy project under discussion right now is one focused on advocacy for quality captioning on all health information videos online, thanks to the suggestion and interest of other CCAC consumer members. We are also talking about transportation needs for real time text in many places.
SWC: What benefits do providers receive by joining CCAC, and what role do they play in your organization?
Lauren: There are two main benefits for providers (on top of the enjoyment in some of our online discussions!). Providers are our "angels" and at the same time, need to sell services and products. We all know that quality captioning should be included in so many places where it's not found now. So providers have been very supportive of the CCAC idea. What could be better than a new volunteer group encouraging inclusion of more quality CART and captioning? That is the first benefit. Secondly, there is a fine line between "selling" and doing "advocacy." Being part of the CCAC, a provider or a provider company can participate in "group advocacy" more freely. We keep a sharp eye on the fine line. We believe all providers should be paid a fair and proper amount for their services and products, yet in the CCAC itself, we are all volunteers for advocacy together; the CCAC does not sell anything.
SWC: How do providers and consumers work together as members of CCAC?
Lauren: As far as we can tell, the CCAC has a unique mix or balance of consumer members and provider members, about equal numbers. We all need each other. Hearing loss and deaf organizations also have many provider members, yet in a different way. In the CCAC, we encourage all members to take an active advocacy role, and together, it seems to be working well; time will tell, because yours truly has donated huge hunks of hours so far, and some team-building is needed during year two.
SWC: I've seen more than one mention, on your website and blog, of CART and captioning being "ramps" for communication access. Why is it important to attach a visual to the cause?
Lauren: The ramp visual is so helpful. We are all grateful to all the "noise" that mobility advocates made and continue to make for good mobility access (for wheelchairs), so why not use the analogy for communication access. Your readers will all understand that we all have a lot to do together, to educate the world about "communication" access being as important for millions of us who need quality speech-to-text for access to life.
SWC: I think all of us who have inquired as to why captioning is not readily available at movie theaters and on video and TV screens in public areas have heard the explanation "Hearing patrons complain about the captioning -- it's distracting." What is your response to this thinking?
Lauren: Would you like my polite response or my personal response? :-). Firstly, there are so many other distractions in movies and on screens that annoy us and others, such as loud noises, flashing lights, rapid movements (common in much entertainment), so why not include captioning as just another feature that serves so many well? My own reply? Just get used to it; it's not really hard to do!
SWC: What do you consider the biggest gap or need with regard to CART and/or captioning?
Lauren: I am very sad when I read about students, on any level, even mature students with acquired hearing loss, who are unable to have CART. I am angry when I see government meetings at all levels without CART. There are so many gaps, I'm not sure which one is the most glaring, yet perhaps your readers will read the CCAC "Why" documents on our website to learn more, and send us their own suggestions too.
SWC: What can consumers do to help make captioning mainstream?
Lauren: We encourage all individuals to keep asking for quality captioning and CART. When told "no" or when unsure, join the CCAC (it's free) and some great seasoned advocates are there to offer suggestions. We also welcome and need new advocates, so important to have new ideas and new energies! Since group action can be most effective, we also invite all to join the CCAC, and also to find a local group to speak with, and to advocate with. So many people have little knowledge about hearing loss! So many have never heard of CART! Consumers, you and I, and all reading, are the driving force for inclusion. It's an everyday concern. Find some energy to keep asking for it, and to join any group where you find others to advocate with you. And bookmark the CCAC website and blog now: www.ccacaptioning.org ; and ccacblog.wordpress.com . We welcome your input! Thanks so much, Michele and the SayWhatClub, for this opportunity to tell you about the CCAC.
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