A landmark moment for D.C.’s deaf community is approaching as a bill to create the first government office for people with hearing loss moves through the D.C. Council.
The “Office on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Establishment Amendment Act of 2019” would implement a plan to enhance existing D.C. programs, or create new ones, that ensure members of the deaf community have access to all District services. It would also appoint a four-person staff with a director who is of the Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Deaf-Blind Community.
This is the second iteration of a bill first introduced in November 2018 by Council members David Grosso and Charles Allen and has drawn praise from advocates who say the office is a much-needed addition for the District’s vibrant deaf community.
The proposed office also would work alongside the Office of Disability Rights and review plans from other D.C. agencies to ensure their programming is accessible and aimed at improving workforce development. According to the 2017 American Community Survey, approximately 39 percent of people with a hearing disability are employed full-time. Members of the community cite disability discrimination as a common impediment to finding work.
The legislation would also create resources and language access for deaf children from birth, make policy recommendations, advocate for the community and screen all American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for Advisory Neighborhood Commission meetings and government events.
The bill’s presentation to the public stirred controversy earlier this year when advocates said the city failed to provide sufficient interpreters for a hearing on the legislation — a key issue members of the community and advocates hope the bill will soon change.