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Once a pioneer in care, CT looks to improve services for the deaf

A worker is part of a customer service program for the deaf community in American Sign Language.
Business Wire
A worker is part of a customer service program for the deaf community in American Sign Language.

Connecticut lawmakers announced a plan to reestablish the state's Bureau of Deaf, Deaf-Blind, and Hard of Hearing Services. This bureau would serve as a "one-stop shop" for residents to ask questions, receive assistance and be directed to the services they are searching for, according to the lawmakers.

The former Commission for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing, established in 1974, provided residents with job placement assistance, social counseling services and interpretation services.

The commission was shut down in 2016 due to funding challenges. More than three dozen states have a dedicated state agency to help deaf, deaf-blind and hard-of-hearing people; Connecticut does not.

Luisa Soboleski, the president of the Connecticut Association of the Deaf, said she has been providing assistance on a volunteer basis.

"I'm getting calls every day from people unsure what to do, where to go, who to contact,” she said. “I'm dealing with all this on a volunteer basis, which I'm very happy to do, but my concern is if something is to happen to me, who is going to take this on?"

Soboleski said she was born into a deaf family that had language “from day one.”

“When I was born my mom signed to me, but 90% of deaf children don’t have that,” she said. “Their parents are hearing. They talk to them. They have language deprivation, and that really bothers me.”

The state estimates the cost of creating the agency at $250,000. If approved, it would begin operations next year. House Speaker Matt Ritter (D-Hartford) said — regarding funding for the bureau — he's "not too worried that this will be anything that would stop a budget adjustment or go into 2025."

“We're going to be able to, as a state, now centralize all the resources, the services, the health care needs, all the needs of this population so that the deaf, deaf-blind and hard of hearing...can live the lives they dream,” said Ritter, who was joined by Jillian Gilchrest (D-West Hartford) and Chris Poulos (D-Southington).

Madi Steddick is a news intern at WSHU for the fall of 2023.