Ribbon Cutting L to R ACDHH Executive Director Sherri Collins, Senate President Steve Yarbrough, House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, ACDHH Board President Elizabeth Booth. Additional ACDHH Board members look on.

Allows More Participation by Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community

Arizona will open its legislative session with the implementation of technology to assist Arizonans who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Arizona became the second state in the nation to offer looping technology in the hearing rooms and main chambers in both the State House and Senate. Looping technology provides a direct feed from connected microphones to cochlear implants and hearing aids that eliminate distance, reverberation and background sound to enhance the sound of speech.

“This will allow people who are Deaf and hard of hearing to participate and be fully engaged at the Legislature,” said Sherri Collins, Executive Director of the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing (ACDHH). “Citizens can testify with confidence since they will be better able to track what’s being said during proceedings.”

The ACDHH was instrumental in appropriation of $250,000 in funding for the system from fees collected through an already existing landline telephone tax. ACDHH also oversaw the installation of the system.

Demonstrations before and after the dedication ceremony offered to community members in a House hearing room received much praise for the quality of sound and the ease of use. For many with hearing aids, the connection is automatic or managed through an app on their mobile device. People who use cochlear implants can connect to the looping system through the remote control device they already use to control their implant.

Senate President Steve Yarbrough acknowledged the more than 1.1 million Arizona adults with hearing loss and said in his remarks, “Today is a big day in Arizona. The legislative process has been opened to many more people.”

While Rhode Island can claim status as the first state legislature to install this technology, beating Arizona by a single day, House Speaker J.D. Mesnard quipped, “Rhode Island beat us by a day, but we’re the first state with a football team to have this technology.” He expressed his hope that other states quickly follow suit.

Representative Lela Alston advocated for acquisition of the system. Alston, who wears hearing aids in both ears and sometimes finds floor debates challenging to follow, especially when her colleagues mumble, said she can now more fully participate in the chamber.

“Everyone who comes to the chambers will have the gift of hearing and be able to fully participate in the governmental process,” Alston said.

“Citizen participation in the legislative process is at the heart of our political system. This new technology at the Arizona legislature will make the process of participating easier for Arizonans who are Deaf or hard of hearing, and will allow them every opportunity to engage their elected officials at the state level,” shared Governor Doug Ducey who could not be in attendance.

Portable receivers are available for those who wish to use the loop system.

Ironically, the ribbon cutting ceremony took place on the House lawn, which the looping system does not cover. ACDHH provided captioning on mobile devices as well as ASL interpreters for the event.