Standing behind the podium in the Massachusetts State House’s Hall of Flags on March 30, Representative Jay Kaufman of Lexington applauded members of the deafblind community gathered in front of him.
“It makes a world of difference that you’re here,” he said. “Who can make the case for services that we should be providing, better than you can?”
It was Deafblind Awareness Day, and more than three dozen individuals with deafblindness and their tactile sign language interpreters had traveled to the State House to meet with legislators to explain the importance of adequate funding for services and programs for people who are deafblind.
Advocates from the state’s major deafblind organizations – including the Deafblind Contact Center, Deafblind Community Access Network (DB-CAN), Helen Keller National Center - New England, and the Massachusetts DeafBlind Coalition – also attended.
During a panel discussion, participants shared personal stories about how state programs had impacted their lives.
For Yariela Brandao, state-funded programs transformed the life of her daughter, who was born deafblind. Brandao moved to Massachusetts when her daughter was 12, and enrolled her in Perkins School for the Blind's Deafblind Program.
At Perkins, Brandao watched her daughter grow from an aggressive child with no means of communication into a happy teenager who took pride in her independence. But Brandao still worried about her daughter’s future.
“When she turned 18, I started to hear that word that I thought was a very bad word: transition,” she said. “I was really scared. I did not want her to lose what she had gained at Perkins.”
Brandao contacted the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, a state agency that provides rehabilitation, social and vocational services to people who are blind. Two years later, her daughter transitioned from Perkins and now attends a day program while living independently.
“If she didn’t have the level of support she needs, she would be at home right now waiting for me to return from work,” Brandao said. “(Instead) she has a detailed and busy schedule. She is contributing and giving back to the community.”
Many people who are deafblind rely on technology to help them communicate with co-workers, friends or family. At Wednesday’s event, State House ADA Coordinator Carl Richardson acknowledged the work of Jerry Berrier, who manages the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program at Perkins, in helping individuals who are deafblind obtain and use technology effectively.
“He’s gone to many of our homes and consulted and met our needs and provided us with technology,” Richardson said. “I want to thank him for dedicating much of his life to making sure the deafblind community has more communication access.”
Also honored was Steve Perreault, a former Perkins teacher and Latin America regional coordinator for Perkins International who has helped develop and grow programs for children who are blind and deafblind for nearly four decades.
“He’s involved with everything and is such an inspiration,” said Perkins spokesperson Jaimi Lard, who is deafblind. “He’s a great advocate for the deafblind community.”