Dec 132011

I addressed Governor McDonnell’s Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring on Nov. 13 and expressed opposition of deaf and hard of hearing consumers to the proposed consolidation of Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing with the Department of Rehabilitative Services.

The commission’s recommendation to merge VDDHH with DRS does not make sense. It is a very bad idea. VDDHH has served the deaf and hard of hearing ably and well since it was established as the Virginia Council for the Deaf by the State Legislature in 1972. The Council has since been renamed the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing but it is the same agency which we know as “The Information Center.”

The general deaf and hard of hearing consumer is not in need of rehabilitation, but we do need equal access to communication which VDDHH strives to provide as per its Mission “to reduce the communication barriers between persons who are deaf or hard of hearing and those who are hearing, including family members, service providers, and the general public.”

In a state where there is unfettered access to communication for all, and widespread recognition of the talents and leadership of individuals who are deaf or have hearing loss, consolidation might be an acceptable option. Virginia is certainly not there yet.

DRS is an agency (an organization or juggernaut) serving people with many disabilities. VDDHH specializes in just the deaf and hard of hearing. The staff is specialists; they possess the knowledge, the language, and an understanding of deaf and hard of hearing people, that one would be hard put to find elsewhere in state agencies, and even at Federal level. Is it that the Commission believes one size, one agency, fits all people with disabilities? If so, why is there no recommendation to merge the Department for the Blind and Visually Impaired?

I always thought Governor McDonnell’s directive to the commission was to study ways in which to cut costs to the public, the taxpayer, if you will.

However, there is nothing cost effective in merging VDDHH with DRS. Should specialized services be lost in the labyrinth of DRS, and deaf and hard of hearing citizens be denied equal access, I can just envision the resulting legal chaos. Deaf and hard of hearing people experience rejection on a daily basis because mainstream America often doesn’t know or care about how to accommodate us. VDDHH has been the answer for all citizens of the Commonwealth since 1972. VDDHH must maintain a clear, strong identity: a place where persons with a hearing loss or speech disabilities, their families and the professionals who serve them, are welcome and guaranteed service.

Stakeholders must reject the Commission’s recommendation and legislators leave VDDHH as an independent agency.

Rachel Bavister is a past president of the Virginia Association of the Deaf. Email her at rbavister

– Thanks to Wayne Frick.