Why TEDxBend Accessibility Lecture Was Not Officially Captioned

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TEDxBend, an event hosted independently from the “Big TED" organization, had their annual event featuring two sign language interpreters who provided a talk about the language and accessibility.  It was hosted in Bend, Oregon on Saturday March 30, 2019.

This event hosted by TEDxBend gained a ton of negative attention from the community. It is because this live video talk was expected to be accessible with either live captioning (this was disputed by Moe as something that was never promised by TEDxBend) or an interpreter in the frame for the Deaf audience to watch from outside of this location. This accessibility expectation did not occur as expected.

Instead, there was an online video posted with captions, provided by Ashley Mitcheltree, an individual not associated with TEDxBend. In this video, there were a few glimpses of a sign language interpreter visible, standing on the stage and providing interpretation of what was verbally spoken. It was clear that this sign language interpreter provided accessibility for the Deaf members in the audience during the duration of this talk.

This video, provided by Ashley Mitcheltree, went viral as members of the community happily shared the message presented by the two sign language interpreters. Moe Carrick, from the licensee of TEDxBend, responded to Mitcheltree’s Facebook post, which contained this video, to point out the implications of licensing issues. The licensing issues are due to the process required by the Big TED organization. Allegedly, Mitcheltree’s video is infringing on the licenses of the Big TED organization.

This discussion grew into how this live video was not accessible during the talk for the community, as agreed. Moe Carrick revealed how she understood it was difficult to provide live captions as expected.  She made claims, that in the future, there will be improvements in this arena.

Philip Wolfe, a Deaf activist and resident of Oregon, posted an open letter written to Moe Carrick on his FB personal wall. In his open letter, Wolfe starts off by sharing his credentials as an activist which include his friendship with Andrew Tolman, one of the individuals that provided the presentation during the talk at TEDxBend on Saturday.  “I knew right away, that Andrew has a Deaf heart,” Wolfe shared when describing Andrew. Wolfe then proceeded to tell Carrick that he was hurt by how Andrew was treated.

Moe Carrick engaged briefly under this Facebook post with the open letter, before Philip Wolfe decided to block Carrick from further discussion.  Wolfe stated, "I have blocked Moe just now since she refused to engage here. I want this thread to be a safe space. So..”

The Deaf Report reached out to Moe Carrick and asked questions about this open letter from Philip Wolfe.  Carrick provided a copy of her email with the responses which show some countering statements against Wolfe’s claims.  

Moe Carrick has been asked if anything was done to make sure customers had the ability to get adequate seating for the interpreting team to be clearly visible as needed. Her response was, “Our tickets are assigned seats only and not first come first served. Our ticket site states clearly that there are seats available for accommodation for Deaf and hard of hearing and physical disability and we have two separate sections available for each. We had 10+ members of the Deaf community attend in their premium seats 3 rows back from the stage where the interpreters were placed.” and also emphasized, “these attendees were also either refunded or granted free admission to the event.”

While Philip Wolfe shared his frustration with their online purchasing process, he stated their process was problematic due to the seating being first come first serve. Moe Carrick provided a response within her email to correct Wolfe. She shared that the tickets were assigned and it was stated clearly on the site that there were seats, requiring accommodations, available for the community.

Moe Carrick also emphasized that the main reason why she was upset with a copy of the livestream, with captioning done by Ashley Mitcheltree, is because this violation of the license puts their license with Big TED at risk. She also re-emphasized that the local event was indeed accessible for the audience within the building because they had two interpreters on stage per the recommendations that their 2019 professional interpreters presented. However, TEDxBend had been unable to provide accessibility to the livestream for the community over the internet.  In an attempt to offer her regrets, she began the show by apologizing publicly and then later again on social media.

The Deaf Report reached out to Chris Haulmark, a former 2018 candidate for Kansas House of Representatives, for his assessment on the concerns of the accessibility in this video.  Haulmark responded, "Hearing people do not resist providing accessibility because they do not want to include Deaf people. They resist because they do not know how to be inclusive. It's part of our responsibilities as community leaders to provide the tools for everyone to learn how to be inclusive at those events.  Moe has shown that she is willing to work hard to learn how and to be able to make things better in the future with those talks. It is a large benefit for the Deaf community to support her as she moves forward being an example for other Hearings to follow."

Moe Carrick also shared with The Deaf Report that she is working to improve accessibility for the Deaf community at future talks. Perhaps the national Big TED organization can learn from this regional Tedx organization on how to improve their talks around the country as well.