People with hearing loss of all ages and those with speech disabilities will benefit from two bills Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed into law August 3, 2012. Governor Markell is Chair of the National Governor’s Association (NGA) and has made employment of people with disabilities his major project with the NGA.
Senate Bill 248, sponsored by Senator Karen Peterson and House Representative Rep. Harvey Kenton with Representative Gerald Brady providing excellent leadership, provides persons who have a hearing loss, or are deaf or have speech disabilities with telecommunications service for analog captioned telephone service. The bill provides for 10 consumers a month to receive those services. HLAA’s Chapters in Delaware plan to continue to advocate to increase that number. A surcharge will be added to telephone bills of Delawareans to pay for the service. The Delaware Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) will administer the program.
Representatives Brady, Ramone, Johnson and Kenton, Governor Jack Markell, Senator Karen Peterson,
Bill Wheatly, HLADE member, Lorreta Sarro, DVR Office of Deaf and Hard of Hearing and
Linda Heller, President of HLAA’s Wilmington Chapter.
Senator Peterson, primary sponsor of SB248 cited input from Lise Hamlin, HLAA’s Director of Public Policy and Linda Heller, President of HLAA’s Wilmington Chapter as providing valuable input and handed out the HLAA position paper on captioning to the House and Senate Floors. The law’s passage resulted from an extensive collaboration, especially with the State Council on Disabilities. HLAA’s Delaware Chapters will also continue to work with the Telecommunications Relay Service Board (TRSB) and DVR on implementation of the new law
Captioning of analog phones enables persons with hearing loss to use a telephone if they do not have a computer, do not use or want to use a computer for telephone use, do not have access to broadband, or need an alternative phone in case of emergency. Prior to enactment of this law, Delaware has been the only State that did not provide a telecommunications service for analog communications devices. HLAA’s Delaware Chapters are pleased that the “First State” now joins all 50 states in providing this telephone service, a basic communication right to Delaware citizens. Linda Heller said, “The eight long years of advocacy was worth it!”
House Bill 384, sponsored by Rep. Quinn Johnson, updates the Universal Newborn and Infant Hearing Screening Act to require a tracking and intervention protocol. Currently, all hospitals in Delaware are performing hearing screenings on all infants just after birth. Under the new law, hospitals and audiologists are required to report follow-up hearing evaluations of infants to the Division of Public Health within 10 days of the evaluation. Families must receive unbiased information on future pathways for their children.
The law also formalizes the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Advisory Board. Rep. Johnson, D-Middletown, noted that HB 384 helps the state adhere to federal standards and helps allow Delaware to continue to receive federal funding that is provided to run the newborn hearing screening process. HLAA’s Delaware Chapters through its membership in Choices Delaware (http://choices-delaware.org), a coalition of advocates for providing a choice of communication and language options for children with hearing loss chaired by HLAA member, Nick Fina, provided valuable input into law’s language.