Advances in Technology and Passage of Civil Rights Laws Help a Deaf Professional Succeed

By J. Rod MacInnes

I was born deaf in northern Maine in 1943 and I attended schools for the deaf where I acquired language, speech and lip-reading skills. When I attended a preparatory school for hearing boys and two universities, I survived by reading a lot and getting copies of notes from fellow classmates. By inspiration from television shows produced by the famed French marine biologist, Jacques Cousteau, and sheer persistence and luck, I became a fishery biologist at a government laboratory upon my graduation with a MA in biology. During these nine years as a biologist I still faced enormous communication barriers, which included lack of full participation in meetings and conferences and inability to make telephone calls independently. These challenges caused me to decide to pursue a different career.

Accommodations Required by Law

When laws such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, (which requires accommodations for persons with disabilities in any agency receiving federal funds) and the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 (which requires accommodations for persons with disabilities in almost all public places) were passed by the United States Congress, deaf persons became able to more fully participate at workplaces and civic functions for the first time. I remember vividly the day in 1976 when I had an interpreter for a staff meeting at work because it was the first time I was able to fully participate in a group setting in 18 years since I left the school for the deaf. Over the next ten years, I made several career moves - all possible by the mandated accommodations. Today I am a Maine Vocational Rehabilitation counselor and I assist deaf/hard of hearing persons prepare for careers or jobs in the community. I enjoy such accommodations including:

  • Sign language interpreters which make it possible for me to participate in staff meetings (they sign what I say and they voice what I sign),
  • Text telephones (TTYs) and videophones which consist of TV and camera (VPs) which make it possible for me to make phone calls to deaf persons who sign,
  • TTY or Video Relay Service (VRS) which allows me to converse with voice phone calls with the help of communication assistants (it is a free service and is available in each of 50 states). VRS is a recent advance which allows me to be able to have a telephone conversation at near normal speed as opposed to that of TTY relay.
  • Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART), which allows me to read in captions what other people say. I use it sometimes when attending lectures
  • Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) which makes it possible for me to have an interpreter on demand (provided that I have TV, camera and high speed internet access).

These accommodations make it possible for deaf to prepare for many more careers than I did 30 years ago. In those days deaf were largely limited to printing and manual jobs and teaching jobs at the schools for the deaf. As for the future accommodations for deaf people, I can imagine even better changes, including

  • Videophones in each hotel/motel room,
  • Being accepted by lawyers and businesses without communication reservations,
  • Captioned announcements in all public places,
  • Wireless videophones,
  • Affordable technology that individuals, businesses and schools can use anywhere, anytime.

As a Vocational Rehabilitation counselor I became aware of accommodations for people with disabilities other than hearing. There is an excellent webpage, which gives information about the nature of disability and recommended accommodations for over 80 different disabilities (http://www.jan.wvu.edu/).

Disability Mentoring Day

In 2005 I decided to become a local coordinator of a nationwide project called Disability Mentoring Day (DMD) because I knew that persons with disabilities need to become aware of various careers and I was conscious of the fact that these people had a much lower employability rates than the able bodied ones (37 percent as opposed to 96 percent). DMD is a career awareness raising and mentoring day for high school students and adult job seekers with disabilities. On this day, which always falls on third Wednesday of October, mentees with disabilities are matched with the mentors (employers/employees) in different ways, including job shadows, kick off breakfasts, company tours. See http://www.dmd-aapd.org/ for more information. DMD, which is sponsored by American Association of Persons with Disabilities, saw the growth of mentees from 20 in 1999 to over 13,000 in 2006 with 300 volunteer local coordinators. It is my hope that the high school students without disabilities who want to explore careers will someday join those with those with disabilities on this worthwhile project. The DMD webpage has an excellent tool kit which allows good planning.

Looking back, I, as a deaf professional, now think I was born at the right time and right place to have witnessed and also participated in truly miraculous changes which enable me and persons with other disabilities to participate in American society as fully and freely as anyone would desire. For me it is a very gratifying thought.

J. Rod MacInnes, is a Counselor at the Maine Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. He can be reached at
185 Lancaster St. Suite 101
Portland, Maine 04101-2453
1 877 612 4800 TTY, 1 207 879 7553 FAX
If you do not have a TTY, please call 711
John.R.MacInnes@maine.gov EMAIL IP (Videophone)