Pa.’s Fetterman using assistive tech in Senate to aid in stroke recovery | Thursday Morning Coffee

Report: The Senate got a digital upgrade to help its newest member do his job

By: - February 2, 2023 7:00 am

When he was out on the campaign trail last year, then Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman used closed-captioning technology so that he could participate in a high-profile debate and answer questions from interviewers as he contended with auditory processing issues stemming from a life-threatening stroke.

Now that he’s U.S. Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., the normally very staid U.S. Senate chamber is getting a high-tech upgrade to help its newest member do his job as he continues his recovery, according to a published report.

The new assistive technology that’s been installed in the Senate has required some adjustments from Fetterman’s Senate colleagues, but advocates say he’s clearing a path for others with health challenges or disabilities to serve in public office, Time reported Wednesday.

“I do think that John Fetterman — his example personally, and the example the Senate is setting — will be really helpful to a lot of people,” Maria Town, the president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities, told the news organization. “It’s going to take many, many people, both people with disabilities and non-disabled people, actually saying, ‘Okay, we can make this happen in our workplace, in our church, in our community centers.'”

According to Time, the chamber’s Sergeant at Arms office installed a permanent live-captioning display at Fetterman’s desk that can be raised or lowered, depending on whether the towering pol is standing or sitting.

There’s a similar arrangement at the front of the chamber when Fetterman takes a shift presiding over the chamber. Both screens can work without an internet connection, relying on the Senate’s Office of Captioning Services’ stenotype machines, caption encoding hardware, and Capitol staff — if needed, Time reported.

There are further plans to improve the set-up at Fetterman’s desk so that it blends better with the antique wood, and so that it can be electronically adjusted, Time further reported.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman campaigns in Bristol, Pa.., on Sunday, 10/9/22 (Capital-Star photo by Nick Field)
Then-Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman campaigns in Bristol, Pa.., on Sunday, 10/9/22 (Capital-Star photo by Nick Field)

According to Time, the chamber’s Sergeant at Arms also has smoothed the path for Fetterman’s committee workload and other places around the Capitol, with a live feed that appears on his wireless tablet.

The captions are produced by professional broadcast captioners, rather than artificial intelligence, to ensure their accuracy, the news organization reported.

“I am proud of the work our team has done to support Senator Fetterman and am grateful to the many Sergeant at Arms professionals who worked quickly to develop and implement these innovative solutions,” Senate Sergeant at Arms Karen Gibson told Time in a statement.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.

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