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Final Answer: Let Deaf Players Join

July 08, 2000|LISA A. GOLDSTEIN | Lisa A. Goldstein is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley Journalism School

There's a case in which my father is the attorney. But he's not suing for damages, so the only money he'll receive is having his legal fees covered if he wins. I'm not his client, but if he wins, I will benefit. And so will a lot of other people. Anyone who believes in equal rights for all should be rooting for him, too.

The case involves the "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" phenomenon.

Everyone in America, it seems, has been glued to his or her television set to watch the folks on the hot seat. And if they wanted to be on the show, they could participate in the qualifying rounds. Everyone, that is, except for hearing-impaired people.

ABC was basking in its game-show success until recently. What are the controversies it has had to face lately? Is it A) having more men than women on the show? B) losing to CBS' "Survivor" in the ratings? C) being sued by a deaf man? or D) all of the above? The answer is D, Regis. Final answer.

According to Self Help for the Hard of Hearing, one in 11 Americans has a hearing impairment. Compared with the multitudes of people vying to be in the hot seat, it may be a small number. But regardless, the popular show is off-limits to those of us who have difficulty hearing. The only advantage we have is being unable to hear the show's annoying music.

Ironically, not only is the show closed-captioned, but it is accessible to the hearing-impaired because of the computers used to display the questions. Yet barriers exist off the set, and ABC doesn't seem to care.

The television network and its production company were sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act last week by a deaf man in Buffalo, N.Y.

I've been among the majority of people swept up by the show that has spawned a whole menswear line. But I soon realized I had no chance of being on the show because the qualifying rounds are all done by phone and being deaf ruled me out. Fast-finger questions are done with the phone's keypad.

Plaintiff Peter F. Liberti Jr. is also a huge fan of the show. He teaches nondeaf students and is able to speak and read lips. He has been writing and e-mailing ABC since last August asking how he could be on the show.

The only response he got was an unsigned letter that said, "We read your letter with interest, and we are unable to offer what you are looking for. Thank you for watching ABC!" ABC may have sent a form letter; too bad they forgot about that we too had the "phone a friend" lifeline.

Liberti isn't suing for damages, even though he and his attorneys jokingly considered asking for, appropriately enough, $1 million. He's just asking for a fair chance to be on the show. The Internet is being suggested as a reasonable method of accommodating hearing-impaired contestants. The show obviously has millions to spend; what's a little more?

I'm rooting for my dad. He's in this because he believes that ABC is being unfair to its hearing-impaired viewers. I'm rooting for Liberti, who's taking a stand for the rest of us. He's the one who had the guts to go this far to fight for something we shouldn't have to. I'm rooting for all of us who will be affected by the outcome of this case, because a lot of my hearing-impaired friends have told me they too wanted to try out for the show, but couldn't for the same reason.

So far, ABC has yet to respond. It has nothing to lose by acquiescing to Liberti's reasonable demand. It has everything to lose in the court of public opinion. Becoming a millionaire is an American dream. Why should we not have that chance?

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