Deaf Person of the Month
From early January through April 2019, Robb Dooling served the elected office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner 6C06, representing NoMa (North of Massachusetts) and Old City in Washington, D.C. He continues to advocate for better housing, parks, traffic management, public transportation, and bikesharing, his goal being to help make Washington a bicyclist-friendly city. And, of course, more open-captioning in cinemas.
I was born profoundly deaf and grew up in Nebraska as the only deaf person in my family. I am forever grateful to my parents and siblings for their effort to learn sign language, especially when my mother and father stayed up late filming themselves telling stories from children's books in sign language so the babysitter could play these videos the next day while they were at work.
After I graduated from RIT and moved to DC for my first job, I could not wait to save up money to buy my first car and then drive it everywhere. However, living in a walkable neighborhood in DC and using Metro as well as Capital Bikeshare gave me more freedom than I had ever experienced in Nebraska, upstate New York, or Florida. I fell in love with DC, urban planning, and the potential of sustainable transportation to move as many people as possible, to the point where I visited all 91 Metro stations and 400 Capital Bikeshare stations during my first two years living in DC.
I developed a belief that everybody should be able to travel to recreation, school, and work without paying for a car. To this end, I started attending public meetings under the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and the DC Department of Transportation where I advocate more frequent bus and rail service as well as bicycle lanes. Activists and I see mixed results, but our speaking up is making a difference overall. These results motivate me to continue engaging with the DC government on not only sustainable transportation but also affordable housing and Deaf civil rights.
Countless Americans never contact their elected officials perhaps because of lack of faith in politics, but the fundamental truth remains that we are taxpayers and entitled to a voice in what services our government provides. This voice belongs to us 365 days a year and not just on Election Day. We should never give up on calling, writing to, or meeting our elected officials and asking them to work for us. Even taking five minutes to email a city councilmember asking for a better sidewalk in our neighborhood or a better interpreter at a public school can ultimately make the world a much better place.
Throughout 2018, DC Deaf activists Brianne Burger, Erik Nordlof, Sean Maiwald, Matthew Sampson, Jarvis Grindstaff, Reema Radwan, Sarah Thompson, countless others, and myself achieved a critical mass of Deaf people asking our city councilmembers for better interpreters at public meetings, open captioning in movie theaters, and a district-wide Office on Deaf and Hard of Hearing similar to those in Virginia, Maryland, and 34 other states. As a result, the DC Council appropriated $15,000 for interpreter funding for public neighborhood meetings in FY2019 and proposed the Open Movie Captioning Requirement Act of 2018 as well as the Office on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Establishment Act of 2018. Both of the 2018 bills are still under consideration by the DC Council as of this writing [February 2019].
I decided in the fall of 2017 that I wanted to run for Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC) representing my neighborhood of NoMa and Old City in DC government. At the same time, I started attending all of my neighborhood's ANC meetings and working closely with the incumbent ANC to cultivate a strong relationship in our shared goal to improve our neighborhood. In June 2018, I told the incumbent I wanted to run for her seat and she was supportive because she knew me well. In July 2018, several candidates and I took out petitions to collect signatures to run for ANC of NoMa and Old City. These signatures were due by early August.
I asked the DC pro bono interpreter community to accompany me on door-to-door campaigning and the response was incredible: we were able to visit every street in my neighborhood and many of the apartments throughout three weeks of knocking on doors. Finally, I turned in the signatures and it turned out the other candidates never turned in signatures for reasons unknown to me. Therefore, I was the only candidate for ANC of NoMa and Old City in DC's November 2018 election.
Because I was running unopposed, I did not accept any donations and I asked followers to donate to nonprofits in housing, Deaf rights, and sustainable transportation instead. I paid for my campaign website out-of-pocket. I am immensely thankful to volunteers who spread the word about my candidacy and the DC pro bono interpreter community for continuing to support me, even today in non-public meetings (such as a meeting with two neighbors to discuss their sidewalk) where the DC government will not pay for an interpreter.
In the short term, I aim to help pass the Open Movie Captioning Requirement Act of 2018 and the Office on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Establishment Act of 2018 in the DC Council. In the long term, I seek to help establish housing as a human right and advocate Vision Zero, which is the DC Mayor's Swedish-inspired plan to reduce citywide traffic fatalities to zero by the year 2024. Any American city can achieve Vision Zero by building humane streets that prioritize people and walkability above cars.
I ran unopposed for Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner of NoMa and Old City in Washington, DC. On a platform of better housing, parks, and sustainable transportation, we won the seat in November 2018 with 95.26% of the vote. Of 1,961 votes cast for the position, 1,868 went to me and 93 went to write-in candidates. I took office on January 2, 2019. (You can see all results for the neighborhood on https://electionresults.dcboe.org/election_results/2018-General-Election > click "ANC" under "Results Category" > click the ANC drop-down and click "ANC 6C" (which represents the area around DC's Union Station, including NoMa, Old City, and northern Capitol Hill.)
Because Dooling moved to a new address in H Street NE, he has had to resign as ANC. But he plans to continue his advocacy, and hopes to run again in his new neighborhood.