Edmonds man helps push through state bill requiring closed-captions in public spaces

Dean Olson virtually testifying at the Senate hearing for SB 5027 Jan. 18.

It isn’t easy to get a Washington State Senate bill passed, but that’s just what Dean Olson of Edmonds did. Senate Bill 5027 — requiring closed-captions on televisions in all places of public accommodation in Washington state –was unanimously adopted and signed by Gov. Jay Inslee May 10, benefiting people who are hearing impaired.

At age 4, Olson began experiencing minor hearing loss that ultimately progressed until — as an adult — he became profoundly deaf, requiring bilateral cochlear implants.

He said he spent numerous hours making sure SB 5027 became law in Washington state.

“I knew we could do this,” Olson said, adding with a laugh he’s relieved he no longer has to do 8:30 a.m. emails to legislators urging them to pass the bill. “The last emails I sent were to say thank you to the sponsors for their hard work.” These included State Sens. Mike Padden (4th District), who sponsored the bill and Jesse Salomon (32nd District), co-sponsor, along with Sam Hunt (22nd District), Derek Stanford (1st District) and Claire Wilson (30th District).

Olson, who serves as president of Washington State Communication Access Project (WASH-CAP), said the impact is deep, “When you walk into a place and the captions are turned on, you’re going to go and tell people, and they will tell others and it will soon get around that that place is inclusive.”

“It helps to show that as a community we’re welcoming to people with hearing disabilities,” he added.

“I never thought I would assist with helping write a State Senate bill.” Olson said. “Working with Washington State Sen. Salomon’s office, and then helping to lead support for SB 5027. This is quite a surprise.”

Closed-captioning has been provided on a voluntary basis by most states, but Washington is the first in the nation to require this statewide. The federal Rehabilitation (Rehab) Act, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensure that people who are deaf or hard of hearing have equal access and opportunity to participate in events such as television in public places.

During testimony before the Senate’s Justice Committee Jan. 18, Olson said that SB 5027 “ensures that no matter which part of Washington I am in, I know the TV captions will be turned on.”

State Sen. Mike Padden speaking about SB 5027 at Senate hearing Jan. 18.

At the virtual Senate hearing Jan. 18, Sen. Padden said “the whole idea behind this bill is to help folks who are hearing impaired, and we all have experiences ourselves, or with our family, or know folks who are hearing impaired, and captioning has been such a positive development for the hearing impaired, so this is really primarily trying to be an educational effort.”

The bill exempted airports, tribal lands and houses of worship from the requirement, but Olson said those locations should also be included – something he hopes to address later.

A 30-year advocate for disability accommodations and diversity, Olson secured live-captioning through negotiations with both the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Field and the Seattle Seahawks at Lumen Field and also has championed close-caption implementation at Benaroya Hall, White River Amphitheater, Mountlake Terrace Cinebarre Theater, the ACT Theater, Woodland Public Zoo Tunes, Edmonds Theater and Edmonds Center for the Performing Arts.

“Unlike most disability accommodations, this is a free accommodation.” Olson said. “It makes it easier for everyone in a public space to ‘hear’ what is being spoken.”

Olson said he appreciated the bipartisan effort to get SB 5027 passed. Padden, the bill’s sponsor, is a Spokane Republican while Salomon, the co-sponsor, is a Shoreline Democrat.

“Sen. Jesse Salomon and his staff really supported the bipartisan approach. I was pleased to become a part of that,” said Olson, a constituent in Salomon’s 32nd District that includes parts of Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace.

The bill becomes law on July 25, 2021, and Olson said the state’s Human Rights Commission will prepare a pamphlet for places of businesses explaining SB 5027 in detail.

You can learn more at https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=5027&Initiative=false&Year=2021.

— By Misha Carter

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