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CT seeks to re-establish dissolved service bureau for deaf community

FILE: House Speaker Matt Ritter (above) said he’s working to re-establish a bureau, dissolved in 2016, for the state’s deaf, deaf-blind, and hard of hearing communities.
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
FILE: House Speaker Matt Ritter (above) said he’s working to re-establish a bureau, dissolved in 2016, for the state’s deaf, deaf-blind, and hard of hearing communities.

Connecticut was a pioneer for deaf services, starting its own service agency in 1974, and home to the first American School for the Deaf. But in 2016 that changed, when lawmakers cited funding challenges and dissolved the Commission for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing.

The decision was a blow to the state’s deaf, deaf-blind and hard-of-hearing community, leaving some residents scrambling to find sign language interpreters and other services, advocates say.

“I have seen such an influx of problems in this state, with interactions with police, with interactions in the health care system, trying to get interpreters; everything is just a mess,” said Luisa Gasco-Soboleski, president of the Connecticut Association of the Deaf and the former chair of the Commission for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing.

“I'm getting calls every day, of people unsure what to do, where to go, who to contact,” Gasco-Soboleski said, speaking through a sign language interpreter.

Currently, over three dozen states havea dedicated state agency to help deaf, deaf-blind, and hard of hearing people. Connecticut does not.

But Democrats in Connecticut’s General Assembly have now announced a proposal they hope will change that. House Speaker Matt Ritter said Tuesday he’s working to re-establish a bureau for the state’s deaf, deaf-blind, and hard of hearing communities.

The new bureau would help residents be more easily directed to services they need, Ritter said, and it would likely require less than $250,000 annually. He said that the fiscal cost is low, but pushing this forward isn’t about money.

“It's about policy that is correct, and rectifying a wrong that the legislature did – admittedly – under difficult circumstances. Our budget circumstances were far different and more dire years ago. But now we have a chance to change that and rectify it,” Ritter said.

The announcement comes as a new needs assessment shows that accommodations such as a government-level office, adequate sign language interpretation in health care settings and clear masks are needed to better serve the deaf community statewide.

Speaking through a sign language interpreter, Harvey Corson, chair of the Education and Legislative committee for the Connecticut Association of the Deaf, said the gap in services for the state’s deaf community especially widened during the pandemic.

“We saw so much lack of understanding in accessible services for deaf, deaf-blind and hard of hearing citizens,” Corson said. “We know that that was not done intentionally, it was not malicious. But it is just plain unknowing that had caused that damage.”

The legislation has support from state Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, D-West Hartford, co-chair of the Human Services Committee, and Rep. Chris Poulos, D-Southington. If approved by lawmakers this session, Ritter said he hoped the new centralized bureau would begin operations next year.

As Connecticut Public's state government reporter, Michayla focuses on how policy decisions directly impact the state’s communities and livelihoods. She has been with Connecticut Public since February 2022, and before that was a producer and host for audio news outlets around New York state. When not on deadline, Michayla is probably outside with her rescue dog, Elphie. Thoughts? Jokes? Tips? Email msavitt@ctpublic.org.
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