A Wisconsin state lawmaker is taking a unique approach to advocating passage of a bill that would heighten protections for the deaf community.
State Rep. Jonathan Brostoff (D) hasn’t cut his hair for a year and said he’ll continue refusing to do so until the legislature passes a bill to address Wisconsin’s shortage of sign language interpreters. The measure, which Brostoff co-authored in 2017, had unanimous bipartisan support in the assembly, but failed to pass in the final hour.
His hair has been growing ever since.
“I’m making a commitment, and it’s kind of a visual indicator to the community,” Brostoff told HuffPost on Wednesday, admitting that it was a “spur-of-the-moment” decision.
“My looks are important to me, but this is a priority and I’m not stopping this until we get it done. And we will get it done,” he continued. “For my sake, we have to get it done because I look ridiculous.”
It’s definitely a new look for Brostoff, who said he’s kept his hair short for the past 15 years. His once-buzzed head is now a tangle of curly, dark locks.
The bill Brostoff is pushing aims to make high-quality sign language interpreters more accessible to people who are hard of hearing, as well as to deter interpreters practicing illegally. Additionally, the measure would heighten protections for deaf people, specifically in medical and legal settings.
“Current Wisconsin law and licensure regulations have created a perfect storm for our deaf, deaf-blind, and hard-of-hearing neighbors: A serious shortage of experienced interpreters at the same time that rookie interpreters just out of school are allowed to interpret complex medical procedures, psychiatric appointments and legal court proceedings,” Brostoff said of the legislation in 2017.
“This is simply about accountability, accessibility, and getting people back to work.”
Brostoff told HuffPost he learned sign language when he worked in Washington as an intern for then-Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa); he was taught by two fellow interns who were deaf. When Brostoff returned to Wisconsin, he made more deaf friends and was exposed to issues plaguing the deaf community.
His state’s deaf community doesn’t have much of a lobbying organization, he pointed out.
“There’s not a ton of money; it’s just a bunch of folks who care deeply about their issues and are working hard on it,” Brostoff said, adding that activists and organizers in the deaf community are the real “superstars.”
“At the end of the day, I want to emphasize [their work] more so than the silliness of how my hair looks,” Brostoff said.
CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this story referred to the deaf community as “hearing-impaired.” The article now uses the more inclusive term “hard of hearing.”