Senate Updates Tech for Fetterman

( – Pennsylvania freshman Senator John Fetterman, D-Pa., is getting custom help from the Senate for his difficulty understanding and responding to spoken communication.

The Office of Congressional Accessibility Services worked with Fetterman’s staff to install closed-captioning to the devices on Fetterman’s senate desk. He will also have a portable “desk” with the technology that can be placed on the lectern when he addresses the Senate.

Fetterman, narrowly elected to the Senate from Pennsylvania last fall against Republican opponent and TV Celebrity Mehmet Oz, suffered a stroke in May 2022. The stroke was life-threatening and serious enough to cause Fetterman noticeable trouble understanding people who were speaking to him.

In interviews with the press, Fetterman’s answers to questions were often noticeably non-responsive to what was asked. He would frequently have difficulty putting words together correctly in a way that conveyed his meaning.

The technology is similar to the type Fetterman used during his campaign to understand the spoken word. The Senate’s closed-captioning setup will work both as a wired and a wireless system.

It does not come without cost and human intervention, however. Humans are required to manually type out the captions for Fetterman. While automated closed-captioning done by computer algorithm has become commonplace in the consumer entertainment marketplace, AI technology still makes significant errors that would be unacceptable in government work.

Fetterman’s obvious difficulty understanding speech and responding to it caused alarm among voters and commentators during the run-up to the 2022 midterm elections. While the candidate’s impairment was objectively obvious, pro-Fetterman partisans accused critics of “ableism” (bigotry against the disabled). Some went so far as to claim they did not believe Fetterman’s inability to process speech would affect his ability to complete his Senatorial duties.

After suffering the stroke in May, 2022, Fetterman limited his public and campaign appearances. When he did agree to debates or interviews, it was often difficult to know what he intended to convey.

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