Dori Richards, a deaf community member from Madison, voted in the fall 2016 elections. But she’s not sure if she’ll vote this year or not.
Speaking through an interpreter, she said politicians offer lots of promises, but little action.
"It just seems like the election system failed a lot of people," Richards said. "Politics has kind of come to be about name recognition and attention getting."
Still, she’s very tuned into political issues, especially access to mental health care.
Richards had a difficult experience with a hearing therapist, who she communicated with through a sign language interpreter.
"It took a lot longer than what a typical person would go through therapy," she said. "I almost had to take twice to three times the amount of time to get through successful treatment."
She worries deaf people might even be misdiagnosed if the person doing the diagnosis doesn’t know American Sign Language.
"They're not fluent in our language, or the facial expression or grammar that is used, and it can be easily misunderstood as aggression or something else," Richards said.
Because of experiences like this, she wants more deaf people to become mental health professionals. But, she says there aren’t enough resources to make this happen. Often people will get the proper education, she said, but then struggle getting their licensing hours to become practicing therapists.
"No one wants to pay for sign language interpreters for someone to get their hours," she said. "There are so many layers of bureaucracy and barriers for deaf professionals."
"When you see a deaf person, don't be afraid to say, 'Hi.' Don't be afraid to come up to us, don't be afraid to ask us about what we're feeling," said Dori Richards, a deaf community member from Madison.
Brian Fruits, is a deaf community member from McFarland and treasurer of the Wisconsin Association of the Deaf.
He votes whenever he gets the opportunity, because he says, "If you don’t vote, you lose the right to complain."
Speaking through an interpreter, he said he’d like to see politicians work with the deaf community to address its needs.
"We don't have a lot of money to make big donations or host political party activism groups, but we're human and we have rights," Fruits said. "We can contribute to society. We can work, we can earn a salary and pay taxes, and we can be productive members of the community."
The availability and quality of sign language interpreters needs to be addressed by politicians, he said, adding that there are some interpreters working without certification and licensure in the state.
"It puts deaf people in very dangerous situations," Fruits said. "We're talking about going to the hospital, or having critical surgery, or going into the court system. There's a lot of different things that if an interpreter misinterprets, our lives could be destroyed."
"We don't have a lot of money to make big donations or host political party activism groups, but we're human and we have rights," said Brian Fruits, a deaf community member from McFarland and treasurer of the Wisconsin Association of the Deaf.
Last session, there was a bill in the Legislature that would have replaced the current licensure system for sign language interpreters in the state, creating a tiered system of intermediate and advanced interpreters. It passed the Assembly, but did not get a vote in the Senate.
Despite communication barriers, there are ways for hearing people — including elected officials — to better serve the deaf community, said Richards.
"When you see a deaf person, don't be afraid to say, 'Hi,'" she said. "Don't be afraid to come up to us, don't be afraid to ask us about what we're feeling ... It's gonna be awkward, that's OK!"
She suggests writing on paper or using a cell phone to text, or even a gesture or body language — whatever gets the conversation started.