Jo Black, Executive Director of the Independent Living Resource Center, Inc., pauses when she thinks about meeting the future demand for deaf and hard of hearing services. The Office of Deaf Access estimates 3 million deaf and hard of hearing people reside in California. With the wave of Americans turning 65 nearly doubling to 72.1 million by 2030, coupled with the fact that one in five teenagers already suffers from hearing loss, the number of deaf and hard of hearing people will climb sharply. Black sees hearing loss as a major public health issue, which according to the Hearing Loss Association of America, is surpassed only by arthritis and heart disease as the most common physical condition. And now is the time to provide education and eliminate barriers that keep these individuals from actively participating in life.
“September is Deaf Awareness Month and October is Employment for Persons with Disabilities Month, a perfect intersection to educate people about the issues and obstacles deaf and hard of hearing individuals face every day,” noted Black. “It’s also a time to focus on learning how to communicate effectively with individuals with hearing loss, eliminating misconceptions and sharing information on available programs and services.”
Independent Living Centers (ILCs) in California offer some of these services, and certain ILCs, as well as the Department of Rehabilitation’s vocational services division, are tailoring their services specifically for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. This may include making individuals aware of available options, providing career counseling and training to enhance interactions during job interviews and in the workplace, advocating for full accessibility, maintaining a registry of qualified interpreters and providing access to partners that offer additional services.
“As the number of people with hearing loss increases, the State Independent Living Council (SILC) and California ILCs are committed to looking at innovative ways to improve services and program offerings,” said Elsa Quezada, SILC’s Chair. “Breaking down the barriers and helping deaf people and those with hearing loss live full and independent lives are two of our priorities.”
Deaf and hard of hearing individuals face multiple physical barriers including telephones without assistive hearing devices, excessive noise that interferes with hearing aids, websites that do not caption their videos or poor lighting for people with low vision who rely on lip-reading. “Invisible” barriers stemming from negative attitudes and preconceived ideas about deafness also continue to exist. “These barriers can lead to categorizing individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing as less intelligent and capable than their hearing peers,” stated Black.
Black believes her concerns can be addressed in part by making people aware of the available services for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. For example, California offers specialized telephone equipment and network services at no cost to qualified residents through the California Telephone Access Program. Also, most public venues, such as movie theaters, meeting rooms and concert halls are required by law to provide assistive listening devices.
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“As demand increases, ILCs should continue to focus on extending their reach and improving access and services for individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing,” concluded Black.
The California State Independent Living Council is an independent state agency which, in cooperation with the California State Department of Rehabilitation, prepares and monitors the State Plan for Independent Living.