Recommendations to Assist DeafBlind Texans
On January 13, 2016, the Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities (GCPD) published A Report on Support Service Providers (SSPs) which addresses an important service gap for Texans who are DeafBlind. During their nationwide rally on May 4, 2016, the Deaf Grass Roots Movement met with GCPD to express their concerns on not being able to independently access the community due to a lack of support services for Texans who are DeafBlind. On September 30, 2016, at the Texas Association for the Deaf Symposium, representatives from several deaf advocacy groups restated these same concerns.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) identifies a category of disabilities known as “low incidence disabilities.” People who are both deaf and blind fall into this category. According to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, DeafBlindness is a chronic condition in which a person not only has deafness, with their hearing impaired severely enough so that most speech cannot be understood with amplification, but who also has legal blindness, where their visual acuity is 20/200 or less in the better eye with best correction, or their visual field is 20 degrees or less. DeafBlindness is a combination of sight and hearing loss that not only affects a person’s ability to communicate or access information, but significant and unique adaptations may be required for the individual to maintain their independence. The Helen Keller National Center has identified an estimated 2,486 DeafBlind Texans. The HKNC does not claim to have counted everyone in the information gathered. There are children in K-12 programs, adults in rural areas, and individuals who are unidentified by the HKNC and may be unaccounted for.
How can the critical needs of Texans who are DeafBlind who want to live more independent and productive lives within their communities be met? Support Service Providers (SSPs), may be able to assist these individuals with their challenges. SSPs are specially trained professionals who enable people who are DeafBlind who communicate with American Sign Language to access their environments and make informed decisions. SSPs provide individuals who are DeafBlind with visual and environmental information and communication accessibility. In Texas, SSPs are usually volunteers as the state does not have funding or a strategy to pay for SSP services.
SSPs can help someone who is DeafBlind connect to the world around them and provide the person who is DeafBlind with access to clear and consistent sensory information. Services typically provided by SSPs include: transportation, helping an individual locate items in a grocery store; reading the mail, providing communication in a social setting or meeting, and serving as a sighted guide while walking, etc.
SSPs cannot: provide personal care, e.g., bathing and grooming, run errands alone for the person who is DeafBlind, make decisions for the person who is DeafBlind, and should refrain from formal interpreting in medical, legal, business, or other settings.
Providing SSP services in Texas communities can have an enormous impact by allowing greater independence, self-determination, and a higher quality of life for Texans who are DeafBlind. This would be especially true in small and rural communities where limited or no services may be available to these citizens. Therefore, the GCPD proposes the following recommendations to the 85th legislature:
- Establish an SSP voucher program that includes training for SSPs so that services are provided in a standard and consistent manner.
- Establish the funding source for the SSP program, noting any inherent obligations that may be associated with the source of funds (e.g., Medicaid funds, general revenues, etc.).
- Designate a state agency to run the SSP program.
The proposed annual budget to establish and operate an SSP voucher program in Texas is $5.808 million. The details of the report and complete recommendations are available at: http://gov.texas.gov/files/disabilities/SSP_Report_FINAL_011817.pdf.