Last week, the Clear2Connect Coalition hosted our first-ever informational and educational briefing on Capitol Hill. The event featured keynote remarks from Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL-12), a panel discussion with speakers from Member organizations and supporters, as well as a brief video presentation underlining the difficulties with automatic speech recognition (ASR).
In his remarks, Rep. Bilirakis touched on the struggles that many veterans, seniors and thousands of other Americans encounter as a result of their hearing loss, while even pointing to his own experiences in dealing with hearing loss from a young age.
“One thing that retirees and veterans have in common is that they are disproportionately affected by hearing loss. I myself am one of 48 million Americans who really have a severe hearing loss,” Rep. Bilirakis shared. “Hearing loss used to be something that most of us didn’t talk about, and we rarely took action to improve our quality of life through assistive technology or other means. Fortunately, through the work of many of you in this room, that’s changing.”
Rep. Bilirakis went on to discuss how the IP CTS program has restored the ability for those affected by hearing loss to clearly and effectively communicate by telephone.
“The most important and effective program to improve the quality of life for Americans with hearing loss is the IP CTS program. I’m proud to stand here today with all of you in support of the program.”
Following the Congressman’s remarks was a panel discussion with speakers from the World Institute on Disability (WID), National Council on Independent Living (NCIL), VetsFirst, and the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), as well as Vietnam veteran and retired lawyer, Robert Richardson.
One of the more powerful and moving moments came from Robert Richardson’s portion of the discussion. Richardson, a Vietnam veteran who served active duty for 7 years and in the Army reserves for 15 years and retired lawyer, spoke on the hurdles and obstacles he faced as both a lawyer in private practice as well at the Department of Justice (DOJ), as a result of being affected by hearing loss for nearly his entire life. Richardson also described how, after being asked by the DOJ to stop litigating due to his inability to hear correctly, becoming a user of the IP CTS allowed him to continue working in private practice, until his retirement in 2012.
“IP CTS has been a game-changer for me and it still is. It’s essential now that I’m retired even more so, I use it to communicate with family, friends, relatives, healthcare providers,” Richardson stated. “I’m retired from working but I’m not retired from life. I’m still involved in the ability to connect ‑‑ and the ability to connect with people using a phone is critical to all of you. And just one example of how I wouldn’t be here without it.”
Clear2Connect applauds and thanks Congressional champions like Rep. Bilirakis for continuing support for the IP CTS program and for continuing to fight for the right to communicate Americans with hearing loss, including our brave veterans and seniors like Mr. Richardson.