Massachusetts’ deafblind community calls for increased support for services

For the second time this month, Perkins School for the Blind was at the state house to advocate for the blind community

Two women communicate using tactile sign language.

During Deafblind Awareness Day, many attendees followed along using tactile sign language.

March 29, 2019

Students, teachers and staff from Perkins School for the Blind were at the Massachusetts State House on Thursday, joining more than 100 other members of the deafblind community to advocate for legislative support of services for people with both vision and hearing loss.

After a series of speeches from students, adults and seniors alike, event organizers called on lawmakers to support funding for the Deafblind Community Access Network, which provides services to help people lead independent lives, as well as the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind’s “Turning 22 Deafblind Program,” which extends support to young adults.

Organizers also advocated for the development of a functional definition of “deafblind” as a specific disability, accommodated access to transit and paratransit services and more.

Combined, these efforts would support every member of the state’s deafblind community, said Carl Richardson, ADA coordinator with the state house, who added the community is itself extremely diverse.

“Services are important at birth and for elders. Many need them for the full range of their life. For others, things change over the course of their life and they may need them later,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important we have many different services for people, whether they have low vision, are hard of hearing, or are totally deafblind.”

The event, known as Deafblind Awareness Day, came just a week after Perkins and others were at the state house to advocate for services for the blind community. While accepting an award for her own advocacy on Thursday, State Rep. Kay Khan made note of the community’s continued efforts, adding consistency is critical because it gives lawmakers the chance to hear real stories from real people.

“I want to be able to draft better programs and better laws in response to the needs of those who depend on us,” she said. “But to do that, we need your support. Your presence here today is so important and your voices heighten the need to address these issues.”

The budget will be finalized this summer.

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