Introduction

Good morning, Chair Flanagan, Chairman Dwyer and distinguished members of the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees.  My name is Heidi Reed and I am the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MCDHH).  I want to thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today about the Commission’s mission, priorities, and our proposed Fiscal Year 2013 (FY13) budget.  I fully appreciate the crucial and mandated task which brings us here today; and share your commitment to serving and protecting the people of Massachusetts with a balanced budget in an environment where needs outpace revenues.

The Commission is committed to achieving full and universal communication access for people throughout the Commonwealth who are deaf and hard of hearing.  Our programs and services directly provide EOHHS, other State Agencies, and private entities with communication access expertise and effective reasonable accommodations, as well as client access to supports, resources, and information.  Our statute is designed to build effective government, community connected service, quality education, and skilled workforce development.  Through our work, the Commonwealth is provided with resources to remove restrictions and barriers imposed on adults and children who are deaf and hard of hearing.  Our mission, goals and priorities are also in alignment with the EOHHS strategic plan.

Needs

Based on U.S Census estimates, the population of Deaf American Sign Language (ASL) users in the Commonwealth is estimated between 36,000 and 58,000 people, with the population of hard of hearing residents estimated at 644,000.  The Commission’s approach to serving this population is cost effective, proactive, and preventive, providing ‘best practice’ policies and procedures that enable programs to be inclusive and responsive to Deaf, hard of hearing, late-deafened adults, children and families whose needs fall outside the scope of other state-funded services.

The Commission provides the Commonwealth with statewide resources, including:

  • Communication Access Technology and Training Services;
  •  Bi-lingual Case Management for adults;
  • Children’s Specialists  for families with newborns and dependent children up to age 22;
  • Referral of Sign Language Interpreters and Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) services;
  • Deaf and Hard of Hearing Independent Living Services; and
  • Special Projects and Collaborations which result in other agencies ability to make their services accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people.

Our five regional offices are located in Dorchester, Springfield, Worcester, Pittsfield, and Plymouth, and our contracted community-based provider agencies serve large urban and rural regions throughout the Greater Boston, Southeast and Cape Cod, Northeast, Central, and Western regions.

Commission Accomplishments

The Commission responds to our Commonwealth’s deaf and hard of hearing constituents with programs and services which remove or reduce barriers to government services, community services, healthcare, safety, education, and employment as follows:

Communication Access Technology and Training Services – During the past year, more than 2,600 employees and individuals in the public and private sector were provided training in standards for communication access and technical support during all levels of service provision.  Further, we responded to more than 1,000 informational requests; the significant majority from people with concerns regarding hearing aids and hearing loss occurring later in life.  Our training and technical assistance impacts a significant number of people who are in both the public and private sector workforce and  is part of our commitment to the Governor’s Model Employer initiative.

Referral of Sign Language Interpreters and Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) services – Statewide, the Referral Program handled more than 24,000 interpreter and CART requests with a 90% fill rate.  These are mandated communication access services which respond to the need to provide 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.

Case management services – During FY11, we served 1,400 complex social service cases. Our adult case managers carry an average caseload of 89 clients, while our children’s specialists carry an average of 229 open cases.  These bi-lingual services are provided in American Sign Language (ASL) and English.  The current wait list for case management services includes 37 adults and 43 children.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Independent Living Servuring the past year, 1,700 deaf and hard of hearing adults relied  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 both urban and rural  community living.  DHILS provider agencies responded with 20,445 service hours at an average of 12.33 hours per client.  The Commission contracts with community based provider agencies, including Center for Living and Working, DEAF Inc., and Stavros for the delivery of DHILS programming with bi-lingual staff.  Those entities further subcontract with Ad Lib, CORD, and the Northeast Independent Living Center, all of which provide independent living center services.  This work is part of our commitment to providing community connected services.

Intra-Agency Service Agreements – The Commission provides other state agencies with management, coordination, and direct services through Intra-agency Service Agreements (ISAs) totaling more than $1,093,600.  These agreements, as well as non-financial Memorandums of Understanding, collaboratively produce efficiencies, increased service provision, and compliance with communication access mandates as follows.

  • Administrative Office of the Trial Courts (AOTC) – This agreement expedites the provision of interpreter services for trial courts.  Efficiencies implemented through bundling jobs by location and interpreter availability have resulted in improved service delivery for constituents who require court services and improved utilization of the limited pool of qualified legal interpreters.
  • Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) – As a result of our work with DESE to provide quality assurance in educating deaf and hard of hearing children, educational interpreters working in K-12 settings are now required to register with MCDHH.  The Educational Interpreter Mentoring project is improving the professional skills required of the interpreters, whose work directly impacts the learning process for deaf and hard of hearing children.
  • DPH Bureau of Substance Abuse Services – Through an ISA with the Department of Public Health’s (DPH) Bureau for Substance Abuse Services, the Commission provides mandated sign language interpreter and CART services enabling deaf and hard of hearing individuals to obtain substance abuse treatment.  During FY11, service access was provided for 36 individuals and included 3,575 requests for preventive twelve-step group sessions, 114 detox requests, 242 outpatient treatment requests, and 533 residential treatment requests.  The demand for these accessible substance abuse support groups continues to exceed availability.
  • DPH Newborn screening and early intervention – Responding to families, including approximately 200 newborns annually through newborn screening, the Commission partners with the DPH Early Intervention Program and offers provider training to increase early identification and intervention for this vulnerable population, providing collaborative opportunities for service providers.
  • Department of Children and Families (DCF) – The Commission’s work with DCF has resulted in better placement of deaf and hard of hearing foster children in appropriate families, as well as accessible parent training that has enabled deaf babies to go home with deaf parents.
  • Workforce Development – During FY11, the Commission partnered with MRC in an initiative which placed 70 deaf and hard of hearing high school and college students in summer jobs and internships designed to increase their potential to enter the workforce.  The Commission pursues ASL workforce development through this and other 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 works 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.
  • 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.  Equipment distributed as a result of this application process includes captioned telephones, amplified phones, and TTYs among other technology designed to ensure landline access to emergency telephone services.
  • Governor’s Office/MEMA – The Commission provides emergency service interpreters to increase information access during urgent situations including weather emergencies.
  • Bureau of State Office Buildings – Communication Access is provided for State House meetings, public hearings, advocacy and constituent meetings with elected officials.

House 2 Budget

The Governor’s FY13 House 2 budget recommends $5,390,287 for MCDHH in line item 4125-0100.  With this allocation, the state will maintain all MCDHH programs and services, as well as restore Deaf and Hard of Hearing Independent Living Services (DHILS) to the pre-FY10 funding level.  Funding for Assistive Technology is included in the amount of $50,000.

Additionally, the proposed House 2 authorizes continued fee revenue for interpreter services provided by staff of the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.  The Commission reinvests this fee revenue to directly provide and expand availability of qualified interpreter and communication access real time translation (CART) services for situations where there is no other responsible entity.

Additional Impact of Preserved Programs and Services

Through dissemination of standardized procedures and best practices, the Commission provides input and feedback to policy development across the Secretariat so that agency 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, as well as MassHealth.

The services provided through the Commission help to strengthen the human service system capacity and connect deaf and hard of hearing adults and children with healthcare services, preventive services, healthcare, education and employment.

Conclusion

The Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing has and will continue to focus its efforts on meeting our constituents’ most essential needs, enabling the Commonwealth to be accessible and safe for adults and children who are deaf and hard of hearing.

As we go forward, I am prepared to assist the Executive Office and Health and Human Services, our Governor, this Committee, and the entire Legislature with any additional information which may be helpful regarding the Commission’s programs and services for adults and children who are deaf and hard of hearing.  I am honored to lead this vibrant agency and I am committed to ensuring the Commonwealth continue the progress we are making in building universal access, community connected services, quality education, and skilled workforce development for all.

Thank you again for this opportunity to testify before you. I would be happy to take any questions you may have at this time.

 


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