Perkins joins deafblind community to advocate for state services

Annual Deafblind Awareness Day at the State House highlights importance of programs and resources

State Representative Paul Brodeur, John Cunniff and Interpreter Christine Dwyer in front of the State House.

John Cunniff and Interpreter Christine Dwyer walk with State Representative Paul Brodeur (left) for lunch at Cheers on Deafblind Awareness Day. Photo Credit: Anna Miller.

April 13, 2015

Perkins students, teachers and staff joined more than 100 members of the Massachusetts deafblind community at Deafblind Awareness Day, an annual event highlighting the importance of programs and services for children and adults with deafblindness.

Inside the State House on April 9, students and staff from Perkins’ Deafblind Program watched as advocates helped legislators understand the importance of level funding for programs like the Mass Commission for the Blind’s Deaf Blind Extended Supports (DBES).

The DBES program provides adults with deafblindness access to adaptive equipment, vocational training, job programs and residential placements that allow them to live as independently as possible. Many Perkins students utilize DBES services when they turn 22.  

“At Perkins, our students’ successful transition from school to the community often depends on programs that are funded at least partially by the state,” said Sue Summersby, a transition specialist in Perkins’ Deafblind Program. “It’s important for lawmakers to see who we are.”

Summersby helped organize this year’s Deafblind Awareness Day, which included hiring more than 20 interpreters to ensure all participants could follow along. Large video screens on either side of the podium displayed a running transcription of each speaker’s remarks.

“As you look around this room you see people using tactile signs, close-up signs, finger spelling, deaf interpreters and oral communication,” said Carl Richardson, the State House ADA coordinator. “It’s amazing, the different types of communications we are using here today and how we all work together so we can let the legislators know that we have a voice.”

This year’s program featured a panel presentation entitled “From Infants to Elders: Real Stories, Real Lives,” where a parent, a student and a community leader told stories of how the critical services affect their day-to-day lives. For Nicole Feeney, caring for her daughter with CHARGE syndrome requires help from numerous professionals, including some at Perkins.  

“I know that the deafblind community understands the importance of individualized support,” she said. “But our lawmakers, insurance companies and other service providers need to understand how vital this is for our loved ones to survive, to thrive and to be as independent as possible.”

Several state legislators attended the event, including Representatives Paul Donato of Medford, John Scibak of South Hadley and Jay Kaufman of Lexington, who read a proclamation issued by Governor Charlie Baker naming June 21-27, 2015 Deafblind Awareness Week.

“It is highly appropriate and necessary to publicize to others the abilities and potential of fellow citizens who are deafblind…and to recognize them as an example of courage, hope, determination and achievement,” the proclamation read.

Participants were encouraged to visit lawmakers as part of Deafblind Awareness Day activities. John Cunniff, who works at the Perkins Solutions manufacturing facility, took the opportunity to speak with State Senator Jason Lewis of Winchester. He and Perkins Spokesperson Jaimi Lard later headed to Cheers for lunch with State Representative Paul Brodeur of Melrose.

“I had an awesome time getting together,” Cunniff said. “We talked about Melrose and the deafblind community.” 

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