A new study shows that the population of those who are deaf, deafblind or hard of hearing in Michigan has been underestimated for years.

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights Division on Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing unveiled a data-gathering project, Not Without Us — the first statewide needs assessment in 30 years — at a Wednesday press conference in Lansing.

The project found that 7.4% of Michigan’s population is estimated to identify as either deaf, deafblind or hard of hearing (DDBHH). This is almost double the 2017 American Community Survey census estimation of 4% of the population.

Now MCDR officials are asking to work together with policymakers to create more equitable legislation. Annie Urasky, director of the MDCR Division on Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing says the community has been “under-counted and overlooked.”

Urasky said that this under-estimation has affected access to health care, government services, education, funding and pay equity for those in the DDBHH community.

“Such significant discrepancies lead to under-resourcing and under-representation throughout Michigan’s public and cultural life,” Urasky said. “With this new data, we will be able to more effectively work to solve systemic problems facing these communities.” 

Urasky explained that the research done through the census and assessment will help representatives understand their districts and better serve their constituents who identify as deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing. 

The assessment revealed that a majority of DDBHH community members reported lack of captioning at public events, such as school, work, governmental meetings and concerts. Seventy-two percent of the survey respondents perceived a low availability for captioning at these types of events.

The percentage of DDBHH individuals who have high-school diplomas or equivalency is about 97% based on survey responses. This is compared to 90% of the state population age 25 and older with a high school diploma. 

However, the assessment results show there is a significant income disparity in the deaf or deafblind communities when compared to Michigan’s average based on education level.

The median income for a Michigan resident with a bachelor’s degree, which is about 17% of the state’s population, is between $55,920 and $63,534 annually.