Sunday March 18, 2018
Timeline to Important Events in Deaf Prisoner Phone Justice Campaign

This is a Timeline of Highlights from HEARD’s Deaf Prisoner Phone Justice Campaign (now in its third year). 

We have submitted six comments to the FCC & our founder was invited by the FCC to present at two FCC workshops discussing Inmate Callng Services Reform and deaf and disability access to telecommunications in jails and prisons.  In addition, we engaged hundreds of Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDiabled & Hard of Hearing prisoners in direct advocacy, with over 100 comments coming from #DeafInPrison, their family members & their advocates and attorneys. Watch Al Jazeera America's exclusive documentary, "Deaf In Prison," which chronicles the isolation, abuse and neglect experienced by deaf incarceraed individuals who are denied interpreters, communication, information and telecommunications in our jails & prisons.

November 15, 2012 - Pastor Mark Ehrlichmann (current President, then VP) attends rally at the FCC to encourage reasonable, just, fair (and accessible) telephone calls for all prisoners and their loved ones.

November/December 2012 - Talila "TL" Lewis contacts commissioners of various public utility commissions to ask that they include disability access in their draft Prison Telecommunications Reform Proposal to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC). 

December 28, 2012 - FCC Issues an Notice requesting public comment  on inmate calling services for prisoners.  One paragraph addressed deaf and disabled prisoners and asked for public comment on this issue.

January 2013 - HEARD creates a signed-captioned video to engage the community in the Deaf Prison Phone Justice Campaign and encourage all members & allies to submit comments to the FCC.  Here is the signed-captioned video to educate and engage the Community: 

March 25, 2013 - HEARD submitted comment to the FCC about the current state of telecommunications injustice in jails and prisons across the nation.  It included comments from 40 prisoners across the nation. HEARD's First Comment: 

March 25, 2013 - In response to HEARD’s call for action to Deaf* prisoners, more than 50 Deaf Prisoners submitted comments on their own.

March 25, 2013 - HEARD submitted comments from 19 Deaf* prisoners at 18 different prisons in addition to our own comments:  

April 24, 2013 - HEARD Sends Certificate of Achievement for Outstanding Advocacy to Deaf and Hard of Hearing Men in California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility. After receiving HEARD's 2013 Deaf Prisoner Phone Justice Campaign "Call for Action" in January 2013, the men at this California facility that houses more than 40 deaf men organized and sent more than thirty letters to the Federal Communications Commission!

The men there who have strong English writing skills sent powerful testimonies to the FCC, and they assisted those who struggle with English to put their ASL into English, so they also could share their stories with the FCC. They requested adequate, equal, and affordable accommodations, including Videophones, Captioned Telephones, a working TTY/TDD, & rates that take into account the slow speed of communication via TTY/TDD:

July 10, 2013 - HEARD Founder, Talila “TL” Lewis speaks on FCC Workshop Panel discussing inequity of telecommunications access for Deaf* and signing prisoners and their loved ones. Archived live stream of workshop here:

August 2, 2013 - FCC's Consumer Advisory Committee passed a resolution recommending the FCC ensure reasonable rates for all prisoners; and accessible, proportionally discounted calls via TTY that allow more time for prisoners who are deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf-blind:

August 9, 2013 - FCC adopts an order that brings an end to excessive telephone rates but does not address serious and sweeping accessibility concerns raised by HEARD related to the absence of videophone (and other) technology in all but one handful of prisons in this nation. HEARD Press Release states that "HEARD’s Deaf Prisoner Phone Justice Campaign will not end until deaf prisoners and their families have equal access to telecommunication in prison.":

September 26, 2013 - The FCC released the Inmate Calling Services Report and Order and Notice requesting yet more comments on this issue with respect to a number of issues including deaf and disabled persons.

November 2013 - HEARD asks the Community & Allies to support our efforts by signing on to a Community Sign-On Letter which stated in part:

"Simply put, family members of deaf prisoners have endured an even greater financial burden and often have been entirely denied communication with their loved ones solely based on disability. The Commission emphasizes that its recent efforts are to ensure that 'rates for Inmate Calling Services are just, reasonable, and fair.' While we applaud the Commission's decision to ensure that rates are just and reasonable, we remind the Commission that there is no fairness without equality."

ASL vlog:

December 13, 2013 - HEARD submitted a Community Sign-On Letter with more than  700 signatures (100+ signatures were from law firms & nonprofit orgs) in support of Deaf Prisoner Phone Justice.  HEARD’s founder wrote this among other things: 

“Simply put, family members of deaf prisoners have endured an even greater financial burden and often have been entirely denied communication with their loved ones solely based on disability. The Commission emphasizes that its recent efforts are to ensure that ‘rates for Inmate Calling Services are just, reasonable, and fair.’ While we applaud the Commission’s decision to ensure that rates are just and reasonable, we remind the Commission that there is no fairness without equality.”  Community Sign-On Letter: 

December 20, 2013 - HEARD and Deaf* Prisoners submitted even more comments saying exactly what we siad eight months before—that there is no justice, no access: 

January 13, 2014 - Just to be sure that we were clear, HEARD submitted these comments to reiterate that there is an ongoing crisis of systemic abuse of and discrimination against deaf prisoners and that justice demands that #DeafInPrison receive EQUAL access to telecommunications 

July 9, 2014 - HEARD’s Founder, Talila "TL" Lewis, speaks at the FCC about issues important to Deaf* and disabled detainees and prisoners at the FCC's Reforming Inmate Calling Services Workshop on Wednesday, July 9, 2014.

Captioned video of the day's workshops can be watched here. (Watch TL's speech in ASL here).

January 12, 2015 - HEARD submits yet another comment after conducting an extensive survey on current telecommunications usage wthin the DDBDDHH community & a separate experiment testing the length of time it took for college-educated Deaf students to operate a TTY(some of the phone companies argued that TTY use was not exceptionally longer and so rate should not be further discounted for calls using TTY technology). The survey found that of the first five hundred individuals surveyed—more than 70% of whom have university and post-graduate degrees—84% report that they never use a TTY; 7% reporting that they use a TTYs just once per year; 3% report using a TTY once per month, with 3.6% reporting daily use of a TTY. Our experiement with university-educated students who used a TTY machine yeielded results that indicate that calls take far longer than 4x the rate of voice calls. 

September 30, 2015 - FCC Releases its proposal for its upcoming order which will cap rates for telephone calls. The historic order will not mandate ICS companies/prisons to provide videophones or outher auxliary aids that enure equal access to telecomm for deaf or disabled prisoners. Instead the order will "remind correctional institions of their obligations to make TRS available to people with communication disabilities," and "encourage jails and prisons to allow commonly used forms of TRS . . ." 

Again, we applaud the FCC's action to remedy injustices regarding rates but remind the Commission that tens of thousands in jail and prisons can not access telecommunications at all.  Action is needed to remedy the injustice of lack of access to telecommunications if this decision is to carry weight within disability communities who are disproportionately impacted by mass incarceration.

The vote on this order is open to the public & will take place at the FCC on October 22, 2015. We encourage the community to attend and applaud the action taken to decrease rates but to remind the FCC that there is no justice without equality. 

Our next public meeting will be in Washington, D.C., on October 14, 2015.  We will be discussing actions we are planning in this effort.  Please join us. 

Timeline to Important Events in Deaf Prisoner Phone Justice Campaign
FCC Speech Translated into ASL

On July 10, 2014, HEARD Founder spoke at the Federal Communications Commission Workshop on Further Reform of Inmate Calling Services about the ongoing crisis in our prisons reletad to conditions of confinement for deaf and disabled prisoners.  The FCC posted the video of the workshop, but captions were not always clear and the interpreter was cut out of the video frame.  

HEARD supporter and CDI translated the long version of TL's speech into ASL and we have provided the English speech below to ensure that the information is fully accessible.  


The English version is available below:

First I would like to acknowledge members of the Deaf and Disability Communities who are here today to signal our deep and unwavering commitment to universal access and equality. Humble thanks also to the FCC for hosting this workshop and for inviting me to sit on this esteemed panel.

#DeafInPrison Campaign Launch!

HEARD Supporters, 

The Al Jazeera documentary, "Deaf In Prison," will be through midnight tonight (June 29th). We surpassed 24,000 views in 48 hours and hope to surpass 30,000 by midnight.  Please take 25 minutes to watch this powerful documentary and a few minutes thereafter to share your reactions and the film on social media using #DeafInPrison.

Review our #DeafInPrison Fact Sheet for answers to some of the most frequently asked questions, & please sign our petition to the United States Department of Justice.

Thank you in advance for your support.


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HEARD has worked for nearly three years to locate deaf and deaf-blind men and women housed in prisons across the United States. In which DOC do you think we have found the most deaf and hard of hearing individuals?

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