New York City Council: Testimony: Urging The City Council Not To Provide The Requested Funding Unless The Whitney Expressly a Agrees To Implement Hearing Access.

Hello, my name is Janice Schacter and I am the Chair of the Hearing Access Program and the mother of a 12-year old daughter who is hard of hearing. The Whitney Museum of American Art (“The Whitney”) is seeking funding for its new building and cultural programming. I am here today to draw the Council’s attention to The Whitney’s history of not providing appropriate access to people who are hard of hearing or deaf, and accordingly, I urge The City Council not to provide the requested funding unless The Whitney expressly agrees to:

return with a formal Plan that meets approval of external experts acceptable to The Council that demonstrates that they will provide appropriate access to people who are hard of hearing and deaf;
accede to appropriate monitoring to ensure compliance with the Plan and
commit to maintain the highest standards of access in the future.

Only those cultural institutions that are accessible to people with disabilities should receive funding. Every institution should be required to certify that they do not discriminate on the grounds of race, color, national origin, disability, age or sex. Appropriate access for people who are hard of hearing or deaf is:

Assistive Listening Devices (“ALD”s) (headsets and neck loops)
Qualified Interpretation

The Whitney acts as if this is a menu from which to pick and choose.

The Museum’s recent Biennial had over 30 video installations. Neither assisitive listening devices nor captioning were available. Only a 1/2” thick transcript was offered. It is not possible to watch a video and read a transcript simultaneously. My daughter cannot hear or understand videos without an ald and captioning so our family did not visit The Biennial that their own advertisement called their “Defining Exhibition.”

A lack of appropriate access violates the ADA since effective communication is required unless there is an undue burden or material alteration. The Whitney cannot claim undue burden since according to New York Magazine, they couldn’t have spared expense when they imported tents from Europe for their recent gala. An article in The New Yorker stated, The Whitney’s Director and Chairman are not “worried about the prospect of raising more than four hundred million dollars over the next few years.”

A T-coil compatible assistive listening device does not require any material alteration. Any objections about captioning on the video can easily be overcome by placing the captions on either an LED or LCD screen right below the video.

The Whitney has known about these issues for over three years. Ted Finkelstein, Director, Disability Access for the Commission of Human Rights and I met with The Whitney in December and again on May 2nd. They are still offering transcripts except for two artworks and state they are exploring their options without time frames or results. Without specific evidence of their intent and scheduled implementation, their exploration is just conjecture and decisions should be based on evidence and not conjecture.

It is 16 years after the enactment of the ADA and The Whitney’s lack of compliance is unacceptable. When there is no effective communication, the Museum might as well hang a sign saying, “No people who are hard of hearing or deaf should bother attending.” because my daughter and others like her will not visit a museum where there is an inability to fully participate. If The Council provides funding to The Whitney or any other museum that is erecting a new building without requiring appropriate access then The Council is saying that it is appropriate to discriminate against people who are deaf or hard of hearing and that the Council does not have an interest in ensuring that the City’s cultural institutions comply with the ADA. Is this the message you want to send?

Thank you for your time.

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