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Weldon Merritt

Simultaneous Aural Communication

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The 11th edition, like the 10th, lists as one of the "distinguishing characteristics" of a "deliberative assembly":

  • The group meets in a single room or area or under equivalent conditions of opportunity for simultaneous aural communication among all participants.

RONR (11th ed.), p. 1, ll. 12-14; RONR (10th ed.), p. 1, ll. 12-14 (emphasis added). Does this mean that a meeting compirised entirely of deaf people, who communicate solely through simulataneous visual means (ASL, PowerPoint, or the like) cannot be connsidered a deliberative assembly even though they are meeting "in a single room or area"?

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Guest Edgar

Does this mean that a meeting comprised entirely of deaf people, who communicate solely through simulataneous visual means (ASL, PowerPoint, or the like) cannot be considered a deliberative assembly even though they are meeting "in a single room or area"?

While waiting for more specific replies, you might find this year-old thread (to the day!) of interest.

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In my opinion, words in RONR that have not been given a particular, technical meaning (e.g., quarterly time interval) should be understood in their ordinary, dictionary sense. Thus, "aural" means what we all understand it to mean, and nothing else.

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While waiting for more specific replies, you might find this year-old thread (to the day!) of interest.

Thanks. I had forgotten about that thread (and I even was one of the participants!). I concur with Mr. Mountcastle's comment that "[c]ommon sense should prevail." Yet the statement in RONR seems pretty clear and unambiguous. Not only that, but it is emphasized by very similar language in two other places in the discussion of electronic meetings. RONR (11th ed.) p. 97, ll. 22-27; p. 98, ll. 11-19. The authors' real concern no doubt is with electronic meetings, as illustrated by the footnote on p. 1 and the parenthetical comment on p. 98. Yet the actual rule, on its face, applies to all "meetings", not just eletronic ones. So if there is a distinction to be made, I am interested in how it is justified in the face of such absolute language.

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Thus, "aural" means what we all understand it to mean, and nothing else.

Whish is, presumably, “of or received through the ear or the sense of hearing.” Webster’s New World College Dictionary (4th ed.). So I take it that your opinion would be that a meeting of deaf particpants cannot be a "deliberative assembly" regardless of how many of the other "distingusihing characteristcs" it has?

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Whish is, presumably, “of or received through the ear or the sense of hearing.” Webster’s New World College Dictionary (4th ed.). So I take it that your opinion would be that a meeting of deaf particpants cannot be a "deliberative assembly" regardless of how many of the other "distingusihing characteristcs" it has?

I realize that I lay a very heavy burden on the authors to say what they mean, to say everything they mean, and to say nothing but what they mean, in a way that is reachable by the reader of average intelligence, average education, a good heart, and a little common sense. But, when the authors say "aural", I take it that they mean "aural", everything that "aural" means, and nothing but what "aural" means to the average reader.

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Guest Edgar

I concur with Mr. Mountcastle's comment that "[c]ommon sense should prevail."

So do I.

Ideally, an organization with deaf members would adopt appropriate bylaws but, until they do, arguing that they can't constitute a deliberative assembly because "simultaneous aural communication among all participants" is not possible is, frankly, foolish. Would it cease to be a deliberative assembly if just one deaf member entered the room?

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." - Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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But, when the authors say "aural", I take it that they mean "aural", everything that "aural" means, and nothing but what "aural" means to the average reader.

I take it mean,

"... aural, all other things being equal. If not equal, then the general statement '... aural ...' may not apply. If it is reasonable that deaf people deliberate aurally, then that is the meaning. If it is not reasonable that deaf people deliberate aurally, then the generic statement yields to the highly-specific circumstance, which will be the equivalent of aural to a non-aural audience"

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Well! It should be obvious that in a meeting composed of people who are deaf, a series of variations in the standard rules would need to be made to provide reasonable accommodation to people with that disability. The method of seeking recognition obviously would need to rely on a visual cue-- say, a raised colored card-- rather than calling out "Mr. Chairman," for example. Presumably communication would use ASL, and, depending on the size of the assembly, there would therefore likely need to be a requirement that a speaker go to a place where he or she would be visible to the entire assembly. These variations would appropriately be embodied in special rules of order, which, as we all know, generally trump the parliamentary authority (but see RONR [11th ed.], p. 16n). So I wouldn't worry too much about the "aural" limitation as the much more practical limits would be other aspects of the standard rules, and all -- the "aural" limitation and the practical difficulties from applying the standard rules -- would be superseded by appropriate special rules of order.

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Analogy:

To argue otherwise is to argue:

"To a dumb (unable-to-speak) audience, such as The Society of Laryngectomy Survivors", the word 'speaking' in debate means 'speaking' in the dictionary sense of the term, and never refers to sign language, since the authors could have included sign language and chose not to."

I think not.

I think the authors of Robert's Rules of Order always imply,

"... where the spoken word is the norm. If 'aural' and "speech' is not the norm, then the regular order demands the application of the most reasonable rule, not the literal rule."

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The 11th edition, like the 10th, lists as one of the "distinguishing characteristics" of a "deliberative assembly":

  • The group meets in a single room or area or under equivalent conditions of opportunity for simultaneous aural communication among all participants.

RONR (11th ed.), p. 1, ll. 12-14; RONR (10th ed.), p. 1, ll. 12-14 (emphasis added). Does this mean that a meeting compirised entirely of deaf people, who communicate solely through simulataneous visual means (ASL, PowerPoint, or the like) cannot be connsidered a deliberative assembly even though they are meeting "in a single room or area"?

Any group which "meets in a single room or area" is a group which possesses the characteristic of a group which "meets in a single room or area", so what's the problem? :)

Anyway, why do you ask (that is, what difference does it make whether or not a particular group possesses all of the characteristics listed on pages 1-2), and what do you make of what is said on page 2, lines 19-24?

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Any group which "meets in a single room or area" is a group which possesses the characteristic of a group which "meets in a single room or area", so what's the problem? :)

...

The new section on electronic meetings (pp. 97-99) also emphasizes that 'the opportunity for simultaneous aural communication is essential to the deliberative character of the meeting.' (RONR 11th ed. p. 98 ll. 12-14). That suggests that the availability of 'simultaneous aural communication' is considered even more fundamentally necessary in some ways than the traditional requirement to meet in a single room. Like Mr. Merritt, I've been thinking about the implications of the requirement for 'simultaneous aural communication'... however, my focus has been on 'simultaneous' rather than on 'aural'... a different topic, with different questions than the ones raised in this thread.

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It makes the day a lot better when Mr. Balch chimes in with a boatload of common sense coupled with a procedural solution.

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The new section on electronic meetings (pp. 97-99) also emphasizes that 'the opportunity for simultaneous aural communication is essential to the deliberative character of the meeting.' (RONR 11th ed. p. 98 ll. 12-14). That suggests that the availability of 'simultaneous aural communication' is considered even more fundamentally necessary in some ways than the traditional requirement to meet in a single room. Like Mr. Merritt, I've been thinking about the implications of the requirement for 'simultaneous aural communication'... however, my focus has been on 'simultaneous' rather than on 'aural'... a different topic, with different questions than the ones raised in this thread.

Well, then let me ask you, what difference does it make whether or not a particular group possesses all of the characteristics listed on pages 1-2), and what do you make of what is said on page 2, lines 19-24?

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Well, then let me ask you, what difference does it make whether or not a particular group possesses all of the characteristics listed on pages 1-2), and what do you make of what is said on page 2, lines 19-24?

What I make of page 2, lines 19-24, is that a group that does not have all of the characteristics of a deliberative assembly (as listed in the preceding six bullets) nevertheless may elect to follow some of the rules in RONR. But that does not really answer my question. Must a group possess all of the listed “distinguishing characters” in order to be considered a “deliberative assembly”? If so, then a literal interpretation of the unambiguous language of the second bullet certainly would seem to preclude a group of deaf participants from being a deliberative assembly, no matter if the group possesses all of the other listed attributes. But if (as Mr. Balch seems to indicate) some other means of simultaneous communication may be substituted for “aural” among a group of deaf participants, then can it really be said that “simultaneous aural communication” is a requirement. And is it only deaf participants who may substitute another means? Suppose a group composed of sign language interpreters want to form an organization that conducts all of its meetings in ASL, so they can hone their skill. Can they do so and still be considered a “deliberative assembly”?

As for what difference it makes, that is part of what I am trying to find out. I frankly am not sure what the possible ramifications of being or not being a true “deliberative assembly” may be. If a group that does not meet the criteria for being a “deliberative assembly” nevertheless can adopt and agree to be bound by RONR, with only those changes necessary to accommodate its unique characteristics, then maybe it does not matter. But apparently the authors thought it was important to make a distinction.

Perhaps it is too much to hope for, but what I would really like is a clear answer from a member of the authorship team: Is or is not “simultaneous aural communication” a necessary criterion for a “deliberative assembly”? (Yes, I know that the group would have to adopt some special rules to include what means of simultaneous non-aural communication they would use. But if they do so, and assuming they meet all of the other “distinguishing characteristics” are they then a “deliberative assembly”?)

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Perhaps it is too much to hope for, but what I would really like is a clear answer from a member of the authorship team: Is or is not “simultaneous aural communication” a necessary criterion for a “deliberative assembly”? (Yes, I know that the group would have to adopt some special rules to include what means of simultaneous non-aural communication they would use. But if they do so, and assuming they meet all of the other “distinguishing characteristics” are they then a “deliberative assembly”?)

I think we can probably all agree that, irrespective of what the authors may say, deaf people can form deliberative assemblies, because deaf people can communicate with each other and deliberate. The fact that most of us, and all of the authors, typically use sound to communicate with each other (and thus to deliberate) is accidental and not essential.

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I think we can probably all agree that, irrespective of what the authors may say, deaf people can form deliberative assemblies, because deaf people can communicate with each other and deliberate. The fact that most of us, and all of the authors, typically use sound to communicate with each other (and thus to deliberate) is accidental and not essential.

If it is your suggestion that the authors didn't really mean it when they included "aural" to modify "communcation", then I have to disagree. They meant it.

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Guest Guest

If it is your suggestion that the authors didn't really mean it when they included "aural" to modify "communcation", then I have to disagree. They meant it.

No, I think he's saying deaf people can form deliberative assemblies....do you agree?

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No, I think he's saying deaf people can form deliberative assemblies....do you agree?

One of the distinguishing characteristics of a deliberative assembly is that the group meets "...for simultaneous aural communication...", RONR (11th ed.), p. 1, ll. 12-14.

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As one member of the authorship team, I thought a more senior member -- Dan Honemann -- gave a pretty definitive response when he pointed out that there is an "or" in the second characteristic of deliberative assembly on page 1. If a "group meets in a single room or area" then (presuming the other distinguishing characteristics apply) it is a deliberative assembly. One needn't look at the alternative phrase referring to "simultaneous aural communication among all participants" unless dealing with a group that is NOT meeting in "a single room or area." And since all the discussion in this thread, I believe, has referred to deaf people meeting in a single room or area, why would one challenge the conclusion that such a group is a deliberative assembly?

The alternative language -- following the "or" -- is plainly intended to deal with the possibility of electronic meetings. It would be pretty silly for a group of deaf people to attempt to hold an electronic meeting by teleconference, wouldn't it? If they held an electronic meeting over the Internet, employing computer screens for communication then -- just as with any other group holding an electronic meeting -- the EM would have to be authorized in the bylaws and the group should adopt additional rules to for the conduct of the electronic meeting. Any bylaws provisions and any special rules of order accomplishing that purpose would supersede whatever language in RONR might be cited to the contrary.

I fail to see how anything in RONR would prevent a group of deaf people, or a group including deaf people, from employing RONR's rules, together with suitable adaptive special rules of order, successfully to conduct deliberative meetings. If that's not disputed, then further debate seems to me to be of the "number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin" variety. :)

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Allow me to add another observation. The second paragraph on page 98, lines 11-19, if read in totality, is plainly directed at discouraging attempts to conduct meetings -- what the National Association of Parliamentarians calls "asynchronous" meetings -- by e-mail or chat rooms. The problem with those sorts of efforts -- which don't require all the participants to be participating at the same time, is, as the footnote on page 1 states, that "When making decisions by such means, many situations unprecedented in parliamentary law will arise, and many of its rules and customs will not be applicable." For example, when is debate to end and a vote be taken? How are amendments and other secondary motions to be handled? A new forest of rules would be required to cope with such problems. And we really need not undertake such an enterprise, because -- for those who insist on electronic meetings -- the technology and software required to enable "simultaneous" communication in ways that allow efficient seeking and granting of recognition, submission of written motions, voting by means less cumbersome than roll call, permitting viewing of other meeting participants (or at least the chair and the speaker) by webcam, and the like, are rapidly developing and, as they become more common, are becoming less and less expensive. So we need not sacrifice most of the well-established and proven rules of parliamentary procedure in order to conduct electronic meetings.

That is the gravamen, in my opinion, of that paragraph. When one understands that context, it should not be interpreted as somehow designed to disenfranchise those with hearing disabilities.

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As one member of the authorship team, I thought a more senior member -- Dan Honemann -- gave a pretty definitive response when he pointed out that there is an "or" in the second characteristic of deliberative assembly on page 1. If a "group meets in a single room or area" then (presuming the other distinguishing characteristics apply) it is a deliberative assembly. One needn't look at the alternative phrase referring to "simultaneous aural communication among all participants" unless dealing with a group that is NOT meeting in "a single room or area." And since all the discussion in this thread, I believe, has referred to deaf people meeting in a single room or area, why would one challenge the conclusion that such a group is a deliberative assembly?

The alternative language -- following the "or" -- is plainly intended to deal with the possibility of electronic meetings. It would be pretty silly for a group of deaf people to attempt to hold an electronic meeting by teleconference, wouldn't it? If they held an electronic meeting over the Internet, employing computer screens for communication then -- just as with any other group holding an electronic meeting -- the EM would have to be authorized in the bylaws and the group should adopt additional rules to for the conduct of the electronic meeting. Any bylaws provisions and any special rules of order accomplishing that purpose would supersede whatever language in RONR might be cited to the contrary.

I fail to see how anything in RONR would prevent a group of deaf people, or a group including deaf people, from employing RONR's rules, together with suitable adaptive special rules of order, successfully to conduct deliberative meetings. If that's not disputed, then further debate seems to me to be of the "number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin" variety. :)

I fail to see how anything in RONR would prevent a group of deaf people, or a group including deaf people, from employing RONR's rules, together with suitable adaptive special rules of order, successfully to conduct deliberative meetings. If that's not disputed, then further debate seems to me to be of the "number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin" variety. :)

I agree. And, this applies not only to the deaf, but also to other groups with various kinds of physical limitations.

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It would be pretty silly for a group of deaf people to attempt to hold an electronic meeting by teleconference, wouldn't it?

They actually could hold a meeting by teleconference using TTY machines or using a relay service (where one participant uses TTY and another can hear and speak and an operator does the "translation" between the two). Of course, doing that would make for a VERY long meeting (especially using the relay service).

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An electronic meeting with webcams using ASL certainly seems more realistic.

As the initiator of this thread, I actually did not think it was the intent of the authors to deny the right of the deaf to form deliberative assembles. Rather, I thought it might be an unintended consequence of the attempt to limit how electronic meetings can be conducted. I recognize the use of the conjunction “or” between the elements of the criterion; but it certainly appeared to me that the reference to “equivalent conditions” included both adjectives, “simultaneous” and “aural.” If the authors are now saying that the aural component is not necessary when the group is meeting “in a single room or area,” I have to ask why that component is so important when the group is meeting via the internet.

I agree that deliberation by postal mail, e-mail, and fax do not constitute a “deliberative assembly.” But to me, the critical issue is not the absence of an aural component, but the absence of simultaneity of the communication. Chat room meetings, on the other hand, are conducted through simultaneous (but non-aural) communication. Granted, such meetings require a lot of special rules of order to make them work; but as already discussed, the same is true of a meeting of the deaf that takes place “in a single room or area.”

As you note, meetings “by webcam, and the like, are rapidly developing and, as they become more common, are becoming less and less expensive,” but that does not necessarily mean that those are the only way to conduct simultaneous communication. And as you now acknowledge, even those means may be used for non-aural communication. So if a meeting of the deaf participants using ASL “in a single room or area” constitutes a deliberative assembly, does a meeting of the same participants “with webcams using ASL” also constitute one? If not, what is the critical difference? And if so, why could groups, deaf or not, using other simultaneous but non-aural means of communication over the internet not also constitute deliberative assemblies?

Note that the question is not whether groups other than deliberative assemblies can adopt and use at least some aspects of RONR; clearly they can. The question is why groups using simultaneous but non-aural means of communication over the internet should not be considered deliberative assemblies. Perhaps it makes no practical difference, but for whatever reason, the authors chose to make the distinction.

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