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Accessibility Advocacy CART (live captioning) Hard of Hearing Hearing Loss State Agencies

State Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services

There are approximately 38 state agencies for the deaf and hard of hearing (HoH). To find out if your state has a Deaf and Hard of Hearing services, try a web search with “deaf and hard of hearing agency” with your state. Agencies are often listed under Rehabilitation Services (aka Vocational Rehabilitation), Human Services or Labor/Careerforce/Workforce offices.

The above graphic is a sampling of where services for the HoH and deaf reside in state government—Departments on Aging, Children & Families, Civil Rights, Disabilities & Communication Access, Economic Opportunity & Security, Health & Human Services, Independent Living, Industry, Long Term Support, and Social Services—and it is no wonder information can be hard to find.

Also, information and services relevant to HoH needs and accommodations can sometimes only be found by navigating through multiple content layers of a state’s website. If the HoH see information relevant only to someone in Deaf culture and ASL Interpretation on the website’s homepage, likely they get the impression there are no services available to them. And, because they are not a part of Deaf culture, and do not know or use sign language, they leave. That is a factor in the HoH being underserved.

Random examples of state website homepages:

Homepage: West Virginia’s state website (https://dhhr.wv.gov/cdhh/Pages/default.aspx). No information about CART services or HoH needs; appear to only offer Deaf services.
Homepage: Rhode Island’s state website (http://www.cdhh.ri.gov/). Equal focus on Interpreter & CART services; appear to offer both Deaf and HoH services.

HoH people comprise over 95 percent of those with disabling hearing loss. They communicate, live, work, and socialize in the hearing world, in a spoken language they are fluent in. They need accommodations in their language.

JULIA: What do you know about your state services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing? State services are your tax dollars at work. Be sure to take advantage of these services. 

  • Do you know who the HoH Specialist is?
  • Do they have an Advisory Council that you could join and learn more about your state services for Hard of Hearing individuals?
  • Which state department funds them? 
  • If you needed a list of CART or live captioning companies, would your state agency be able to provide one? 
    • And if not, are you right now looking up your next state legislation meeting? 
  • Do you have a local HLAA (Hearing Loss Association of America) chapter who might lobby with you? 
  • How can you make a difference for HoH needs in your state?

If you can answer these questions, HOORAY!!! If you can’t, I hope it prompts you to find out more. Chelle Wyatt is one person and she made a huge difference in the thought process at a state level by showing one size does not fit most.

Even if you don’t live in the same city as the state office, send an email to the HoH specialist and ask what might be available in your area. Advisory Council meetings are often online, so you can join from anywhere in your state and help make a difference. Reach out, we can make a difference.

MICHELE: I found out about the DHHSD (Deaf and Hard of Hearing Division) through my CareerForce (formerly WorkForce) office after moving to Minnesota in 2006. They suggested I contact DHHSD—I had never heard of them—to partner with should any employer express concern regarding my hearing loss. I remember wondering why none of my audiologists had ever mentioned that there are state agencies that serve the HoH and deaf? At the end of every unsuccessful hearing aid trial, I was desperate for additional help and information, but they had no answers for me.

I met with the local DHHSD director, who is culturally Deaf, and received some helpful information about captioned telephones and mobile CapTel. I was also assured their office would indeed serve as a co-advocate with prospective employers if the need arose.

What wasn’t helpful was the lecture I received for referring to myself as “Hearing Impaired”, or the invitation to the monthly pizza night where only sign language was spoken, followed by “Most HoH people only come once; they have no way to communicate.” 

I did not learn about CART from DHHSD and was given some material on learning sign language.

My initial impression was that their services were more focused on Deaf culture and sign language, which is not my experience. My fitting into Deaf culture seemed more important than their meeting my needs as a lipreader, English speaker, and captioning consumer. I’ve learned more from my tribe of HoH peers than from my state agency or audiologists.

In early 2018, I volunteered as a delegate for my state political party and requested CART for the March convention. The local convention organizer contacted DHHSD for assistance after the remote CART provider recommended an on-site provider would be a better fit for a political convention. What they (the same culturally Deaf director) advised demonstrated how misinformed they are about CART and CART providers, and that they clearly need to be more knowledgeable about HoH needs and accommodations.

In 2020, the VRS (Vocational Rehabilitation Services) placement coordinator I was working with asked if I needed a sign language interpreter for our meeting. It was an opportunity to inform about how vast the HoH community is (18% of the population), my needs as a lipreader, and to educate about CART and captioning. To his credit, my VRS person was not okay with being knowledgeable about Deaf culture, but having no idea about the HoH community. Assuming the same was true for his co-workers, he encouraged me to submit a workshop proposal for that year’s upcoming Health & Human Services Conference in our county, which I did. That workshop was the basis for the One Size Does Not Fit All workshop that Hearing Loss LIVE! plans to offer in the future.

CHELLE: In 2009, after a big drop in hearing and a life change in moving to Salt Lake City, I discovered our state agency while looking for the local HLAA chapter who happened to meet there. The Utah Division of Services of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DSDHH) had classes for hearing loss and I took them all, anything to learn how to live better with hearing loss. Every time I walked through those doors for a Hard of Hearing event, I felt the burden of communication dropped off my shoulders. These were my people, my tribe. 

I like to joke that I was around there so much, they finally hired me in 2012 as a Hard of Hearing Assistant for statewide services. I loved reaching more people and helping others deal with their hearing loss better. I worked 5 years as HoH Assistant and then 3 more years as a HoH Specialist, the first not to be fluent in American Sign Language (ASL).

Though I loved what I did, working in the “Deaf Center”, as it was often called, had some challenges. As the HoH specialist, I began to remind people that it was the Deaf AND Hard of Hearing Center. It was hard for people to change that habit, the Deaf community started services years ago. The Hard of Hearing portion came later with the Hard of Hearing Specialist job, classes and presentations. The ‘new’ office building was dedicated as the Sanderson Community Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. After reminding enough people, they started saying the Sanderson Center instead. I wanted to make sure the HoH felt included and they knew it was their center too. 

While there, I learned enough sign language to get by but did not become fluent. I’m Hard of Hearing. I speak English and read English. I use lipreading and CART. I was the Hard of Hearing Specialist and I wanted to represent the majority of the community I belonged to. It was my job to make Hard of Hearing communication needs known which included requesting CART at outside events, something that hadn’t been done much before me. 

Most of my Deaf coworkers respected me though a few were resentful that I did not become fluent in ASL.This is the Deaf AND Hard of Hearing Center, I think a mutual respect is needed and that was my goal. I did serve the Hard of Hearing community well and brought in a record attendance and gave CART more recognition on the state level.

AREAS THAT WARRANT IMPROVEMENT: The majority of state agencies that serve the HoH and Deaf require their employees to be fluent in ASL, which disqualifies some of the most knowledgeable and talented people to help the HoH. That needs to change.

It is important that state agencies give equal billing to HoH needs and accommodations. CART should not continue to be a well-kept secret. CART for the HoH is exactly the same as ASL Interpretation for the Deaf. Both are considered reasonable communication access accommodations by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Go to your state’s website and look around. If you can’t easily find information relevant to HoH needs and CART, contact them and give them some thoughtful feedback and ask for what you need. The HoH community will remain underserved until they become more involved in getting the same level of service as the Deaf community. We should look to the Deaf community as a model for our own movement.

Unfortunately, the HoH most often learn about state agencies, and the services they provide, from their own internet search, referrals from Work/Career Force offices, peers, or by accident. State Agencies must do a better job of finding ways to reach the HoH and offering services equal to those offered for the Deaf.

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