DPAN.TV is making history by making news accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing community

Sean Forbes grew up in Farmington Hills dreaming about becoming a rock star. He attended the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York and earned a multi-disciplinarian degree focused on accounting, communications, and management, though the rapper, drummer, and songwriter never gave up on his dream of being a recording artist. In 2012, that dream became a reality, as he released his debut album Perfect Imperfection on Web Entertainment, the label best known for discovering and producing Detroit rapper Eminem.
Forbes started the nonprofit organization D-PAN (the Deaf Professional Arts Network) 10 years ago with the intent of making music and music culture more accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing community.
"I was always sharing music with my friends in ASL [American Sign Language]," he says. "I had grown up with it. It was always a part of my life. I thought, maybe there is an opportunity here."
So he launched D-PAN and offered ASL translations of popular music from artists like Eminem, the White Strips, and Christina Aguilera. The channel amassed millions of views of YouTube, and Forbes started to think about all of the other things that aren't accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing community, like news and current events.
He decided he wanted to take the best of the best of ASL content and put it on DPAN.TV.
"It's all about accessibility," he explains. "I was very fortunate to grow up in a family that has made things to accessible to me my whole life."
DPAN.TV launched in 2015 and made history in 2016 by airing the Presidential debates with ASL interpreters – something that had never been done before. The broadcasts received over 750,000 views.
"I wanted to create a safe place where deaf people can get information and where hearing people can see that we're forward-thinking individuals," says Forbes. "I'm doing what I love and I'm doing what I feel is necessary for my community and to change lives. Some deaf people don’t go to college or into journalism because there was no career for them. I feel like I'm opening a lot of doors for people in our community."
Right now the primary focus of DPAN.TV is current events and entertainment news. They also produce two original television series.
"The interesting thing about what we do at DPAN.TV is that we make the content accessible with ASL but also everything has audio and closed captioning. I'll watch CNN and find that the closed captioning is completely wrong, and how would I know that unless I'm watching with a hearing person? We make sure the quality and message is accurate for our community. We are sharing who we are as deaf people and our perspective, while also making current events accessible to our community."
DPAN.TV is free for everyone to sign up and enjoy the content.
"That was really important to me when we set this up; accessibility is not something you should pay for," says Forbes. "Our community is underserved and it's really important that we can create content they access easily."
Forbes wants to evolve DPAN.TV even further to host events and show people what they're doing.
"A lot of people just don't understand [why it's so important]. They're so used to getting in the car and having information come right to them, but if a warning went off that there was a tornado right behind us we would have no idea," he says.
He wants to also develop an app where things are explained through ASL.
"ASL is its own language. There are different aspects of body language and facial expression that simply can't be comprehended just by reading it. It is the third most popular language taught in high schools across the country. The more people are educated in it, the more there is that can change. Deaf kids are growing up deprived because their parents are afraid that if they taught them ASL then they would never speak."
DPAN.TV shows there are successful deaf people in the world – rocket scientists who work at NASA, people who work at Google and Microsoft and Apple.
"It's just not shared that deaf people can succeed," says Forbes. "I'm a musician. If I can go into music, you can do anything."