National Association of the Deaf

Marlee Matlin Rocks for the NAD on Capitol Hill and at the FCC

Marlee Matlin, Academy Award winning actress, author, and spokesperson for the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) for accessible broadband services and Internet media, rocked for access on Capitol Hill last week and testified at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) field hearing on the National Broadband Plan.

On Thursday, November 5, Matlin visited with key legislators on Capitol Hill with NAD representatives and other members of the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT).  Matlin’s meetings highlighted the need to enact the “Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009” (H.R. 3101) introduced by Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA), pictured at right.

Matlin met with senior staff of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on behalf of the Chairman, Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller (D-WV).  She also met with Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) (pictured at right), a member of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet. 

Later in the day, she met with senior staff of Representative Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and senior staff of Representative Rick Boucher (D-VA), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet.  Matlin reconnected with Representative Mary Bono Mack (R-CA) and met with her senior staff, met with Representative Bart Gordon (D-TN) (pictured at right), and Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) (pictured second at right), all members of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet.  She also met with Representative Cliff Stearns (R-FL) (pictured third at right), ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet. 

At the end of this exhilarating and exhausting day, Matlin caught up with Representative Markey (pictured at right). In each of her meetings on Capitol Hill last week, Matlin shared her experiences as one of 36 million Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing.  No stranger to Capitol Hill, she recounted her testimony before Congress in 1990 about the importance of captioning and the need for a law requiring televisions to be able to decode and display closed captioning.  Those efforts were successful and now closed captioning is a familiar part of the television landscape, providing access for millions of Americans.  Now, 20 years later, with much of what we see on television with captions being broadcast on the Internet without captions, it seems as if the clock has been turned back 20 years.

Matlin mentioned her inability to watch her own performance on “Dancing with the Stars” when it was posted on the Internet by ABC, along with behind-the-scenes extras, without captions.  She expressed her dismay about the lack of captions when Netflix recently streamed the “Wizard of Oz” on the Internet, a movie that inspired her to become an actress and which she worked to get captioned in 1989.  Without captions, she was unable to share this special event with her youngest daughter.  Most recently, she was unable to follow the live streaming CNN broadcast of the unveiling of the statue of Helen Keller on Capitol Hill because of lack of captions.  The irony of these experiences was undeniable.

As a result, Matlin sought support for the “Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009” (H.R. 3101).  This legislation will, among other things, ensure that the captions seen on television will be passed through when those programs are streamed on the Internet.  It will also extend the requirement for televisions to display captions to all devices that show television programs, such as iPods, cell phones, and other video-capable devices.  In addition, it will make closed captions easier to access by putting buttons to turn on closed captions, like volume control, on remote controls.  As Matlin explained, “Captions are words for my world.”

On Friday, November 6, Matlin continued advocating for accessible broadband service and Internet media by presenting testimony at an FCC field hearing on the development of a National Broadband Plan and people with disabilities.  The hearing, along with innovative technology exhibitions, was presided over by Commissioner Michael Copps (pictured at right) on the Gallaudet University campus. 

After the FCC field hearing, Matlin met with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski (pictured at right) in his office to discuss broadband and accessibility issues.

Read Matlin’s  FCC testimony:

Watch a captioned video of Matlin's FCC testimony:


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