Representatives of Mayor Walter E. Washington asked the D.C. City Council last week to postpone action on a bill that would provide deaf persons with telecommunication access to the District government.
The bill, which was introduced last month by Council Members Nadine P. Winter and Marion Barry, would provide deaf persons with direct access to at least 20 District agencies through the installation of TDDs (Telecommunication Devices for the Deaf). A TDD, which is similar to a teletypwriter, allows deaf persons to communicate with persons in other locations by using normal telephone lines. According to the bill, the estimated cost to install TDDs in the 20 agencies would be $10,000.
However, at a public hearing on the bill, representatives from the mayor said it would cost much more to install the TDDs in all 20 agencies and suggested that one TDD be installed as a test.
T. J. Behrens, chief of telephone management in the District Department of General Services, testified that his department estimated it would cost $30,000 to $40,000 to install TDDs in all 20 agencies. He added that the estimate did not include such items as the cost of paper (needed for the machines), maintenance or training persons to operate the machines.
Ronald Mordecai, also of the General Services Department, said that although the mayor's office expresses "strong endorsement and support of the attempt" to provide access for deaf persons, only one central TDD should be installed, in the Office of Emergency Preparedness, to test the need for such a program and to see what problems it might entail. He said the TDD could be installed within 60 days at a minimal cost to the government.
"Once we see the extent of traffic experienced," he said, the system could be assessed and perhaps expanded to provide more service.
However, Council Member Arrington Dixon, who chaired the public hearing, said he believed the full program for all 20 agencies should not be delayed. "I think we ought to try to go forward in the quickest way we can," he said later.
He added, "I don't think that (the single TDD) would offer enough," and predicted that the committee would go ahead with the bill as proposed.
The bill was introduced in response to a petition presented last summer to Mayor Washington by 17 District organizations that serve deaf persons. According to the petition, the more than 20,000 District residents who are deaf have "to run an obstacle course in order to procure from (their) government the same assistance that is only a dial tone away for the hearing person.
"Unable to use a conventional telephone, the deaf person is deprived of a convenient and efficient link with the District government that hearing persons take for granted. When deaf people need to communicate with (the District) they are left with no choice but to correspond by mail or personally visit the respective District office."
Thus, the petition concludes, deaf persons "must pursue longer, more burdensome paths to receiving the same aid" as hearing persons, and consequently, "the fact remains that the ear of government listens more closely to the desires of the hearing person than to the needs of the deaf."
At present, only a handful of agencies are accessible to the deaf by telephone. Among them are the City Council (724-8118) and the Police Department (393-2222).
Under the proposed bill, agencies in the program would include the mayor's office, the Office of Consumer Affairs, the City Hall Complaint Center, the Office of Human Rights, the Unemployment Compensation Board, several bureaus of the Department of Human Resources, the Fire Department and the Department of Housing and Community Development.