Senator Brewer, Representative Dempsey and members of the House Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, thank you for this opportunity to speak on behalf of the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and its fiscal year 2012 budget proposal. I appreciate the crucial task which brings us here today; serving the people of Massachusetts with a balanced budget is an obligation made very difficult in an environment where needs outpace revenues.

The Commission operates with the vision of serving and protecting deaf and hard of hearing people in a Commonwealth where universal access is the standard for ensuring that all people are able to fully participate in all areas of life. Our programs and services directly provide EOHHS, other state agencies, and private entities with communication access expertise and effective and reasonable accommodations, and client access to supports, resources, and information. Our statute was designed to build effective government, community connected service, quality education, and skilled workforce development.

Needs

Based on U.S. Census estimates of population size, between 36,265 and 58,023 Deaf American Sign Language (ASL) users may live in Massachusetts and an estimated 644,000 hard of hearing people live here. The Commission's work impacts the lives of this population in every region in the state through programs which serve Deaf, hard of hearing, late-deafened adults, children, and their families whose needs fall outside the scope of other state funded services. Our offices are in Dorchester, Springfield, Worcester, Pittsfield, and Plymouth, and through contracted community based provider agencies.

The programs and services we deliver are:

  • Communication Access Technology and Training Services
  • Case Managers and Children's Specialists
  • Referral of Sign Language Interpreters and Communication Access Realtime captioning (CART) services
  • Deaf and Hard of Hearing Independent Living Services
  • Special Projects and Collaborations

Accomplishments

The Commission delivers programs and services which are cost effective, proactive, save state agencies time and money, prevent law suits, and provide 'best practice' policies and procedures which enable programs to be inclusive and responsive to deaf and hard of hearing children and adults. Highlights of the current year include the following.

A strategic planning process was initiated and is still in progress - We are focusing on restructuring our services to respond to and prioritize increased service demand with decreased staffing.

Interpreter & CART Referral - Completed external evaluation and redesign of referral services; we restructured the department to better meet community needs. During FY 2010, the Referral Program handled 28,000 requests for interpreter and CART services.

Case management - We re-organized this resource so that children's services would get adequate staffing. The average caseload is 240 families and there is a wait list of 100.

Communication Access Technology & Training Services (CATTS Services) - The Commission received grant support from the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation to improve strategies for delivering training and outreach activities through media and webinar. CATTS also assists other state agencies with public service announcements.

Intra- Agency Service Agreements - The Commission provides other state agencies with management, coordination, and direct services through Intra-agency Service Agreements (ISAs) totaling $1,025,070. This figure represents an increase of 227% since 2008 to collaboratively produce the following results:

  • Administrative Office of the Trial Courts (AOTC) - Increased provision of interpreter services for trial courts, bundling jobs by location and interpreter availability resulted in improved service delivery for constituents and improved efficiency of limited resources.
  • Dept of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) - significant progress has been reached in credentialing educational interpreters and developing American Sign Language competency requirements as a component of licensure for Teachers of the Deaf.
  • DPH/Bureau of Substance Abuse Services - a screening tool for at-risk constituents will be modified for D/HH individuals; it will be piloted in Deaf & Hard of Hearing Independent Living Centers (DHILS) and other community based settings. Our work in this area has led to development of more comprehensive services for both youth and adults.
  • DPH/Newborn screening and early intervention - The Commission offers provider training to increase early identification and intervention for this vulnerable population and provide collaborative opportunities for service providers.
  • Governor's office/MEMA - We collaborated with these offices to provide emergency service interpreters to ensure information access during weather and other urgent/emergent situations.
  • MRC & DCF - Co-funding for DHILS provider agencies to deliver community based/Community First-related services. DHILS provider agencies have applied to be approved vendors for DCF parent /peer-training.
  • Bureau of State Office Buildings - Provision of State House Communication Access for meetings, public hearings, advocacy and community meetings with their Senator/Representative. This funding was created as a result of a law suit by consumers.
  • 911 Commission - MCDHH receives and processes applications from persons seeking specialized equipment in order to access the state's ADA mandated Telephone Relay Service and E911 services.

Consultative services - The Commission provides input and feedback to agencies on policy development across the Secretariat so that these policies may safely and appropriately impact the lives of deaf and hard of hearing people. Initiatives include CBHI (Children's Behavioral Health Initiative, Person Centered Planning, Model Employer, DCF foster care and adoptions, MassHealth, and more.

In additional collaborative efforts, our work with the Department of Children and Families has resulted in better placement of foster children in appropriate families and accessible parent training has enabled deaf babies to go home with deaf parents.

And further, the Commission pursues ASL workforce development through strategic partnerships, leveraging resources, geographical access, and affordability. In accordance with legislative direction within Chapter 526 of the Acts of 2008, known as the American Sign Language Workforce Development Act, the Commission established the William Hoy Council of Deaf Studies and Workforce Development. The Council sought to identify strengths within the state's postsecondary programs and recommend guidelines for responding to gaps with a systematic model of enhanced training, recruitment, and financial support. The Council's report has been submitted to the Committee on Higher Education and the Joint Ways & Means Committee for their review and to be used to guide further Deaf Studies and Workforce Development in Massachusetts.

Preserved Programs and Services

Interpreter & CART Referral - This highly successful mentorship program continues to support newly-trained interpreter's transition to full-time employment.

Statewide screening provides quality assurance for interpreters entering the workforce. Community support for interpreters/CART provides communication access for programs/individuals where no other services would be available.

Case management services - staff have converted 1 FTE from adult services to children's specialist and increased caseload to minimize wait list. Annually, more than 2,000 complex social service cases are handled through the Commission. Our adult case managers carry an average caseload of 82 clients and serve 18 per month. Our children's specialists carry an average caseload of 205 and serve 14 per month. These are bi-lingual services provided in ASL and English, and there is a wait list of 100 clients. This work is part of our commitment to education and work force development.

Communication Access Technology and Training Services- The annual training provided by the Commission has educated more than 4,000 state agency employees and individuals in the public and private sector related to standards for communication access and technical support during all levels of service provision. This work is part of our commitment to the Governor's Model Employer initiative.

Referral of Sign Language Interpreters and Communication Access Realtime captioning (CART) services - Statewide, this Referral Program handles more than 28,000 interpreter requests with an 84% fill rate and more than 1,300 CART service requests with a 93% fill rate. These are mandated communication access services, reasonable accommodations required by law for deaf and hard of hearing individuals within the full range of economic, governmental, social, educational, healthcare, and public safety settings. This work is part of our commitment to improved government efficiencies.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Independent Living Services ( DHILS) - Statewide, 2,000 deaf and hard of hearing adults rely on DHILS to reach and maintain self sufficiency, attain and manage wellness, access information for making informed decisions about healthcare, learn effective parenting, and prepare for emergencies inherent in community living. The Commission contracts with community based provider agencies; Center for Living and Working, DEAF Inc., and Stavros for delivery of DHILS programming with bi-lingual staff. Through subcontracting, Ad Lib, CORD, and the Northeast Independent Living Center also provide DHILS programming. This work is part of our commitment to community connected services.

Budget Reductions

Over the past three years, MCDHH has implemented a 13% decrease in its budget. One consequence of this has been the resulting elimination of the After Hours Emergency Referral Service during Fiscal Year 10.

Continued budget reductions eliminated the above After Hours Emergency program as well as reduced other programs such as:

  • Deaf and Hard of Hearing Independent Living programs (DHILS)
  • In-house Communication Access
  • Programmatic and administrative staffing

The House 1 proposal for FY12 recommends $4,718,131 for MCDHH which represents a 2% percent decrease below FY11 total available. As a result, the Commission will continue to streamline internal administration and staffing reductions and may lead significant challenges in responding to constituent requests complaints and requests for advocacy (communication access in emergency hospital situations, for example), analysis and reporting that improve service delivery, as well as in house communication access results including inadequate access for key staff at both program and senior administration levels in outreach and ongoing service delivery efforts and significantly impacts participation in community and government initiatives.

We have and will continue to focus our efforts on customer and case management services, and collaborative agreements which will meet our constituents' most essential needs and enable the Commonwealth to be accessible and safe for adults and children who are deaf and hard of hearing. I look forward to working with this Committee, the entire Legislature, the Executive Office and Health and Human Services, and our Governor to help make Massachusetts a model of effective and universal communication access.

Thank you again for this opportunity to testify in support of the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing FY 2012 budget.


This information is provided by the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.