ANNAPOLIS – More than 100 hearing impaired Maryland residents used sign language to send a loud message to Gov. Parris Glendening Friday, at a rally for a bill to set up a new state office to address their unique communication needs.
Glendening has opposed creating a special office saying the Governor’s Office for Individuals With Disabilities can handle the needs of Marylanders with hearing impairments.
But, the advocates say, even the phone system in that office is inadequate for the hearing impaired. To reach the office, those with hearing difficulties must dial 7-1-1 for Maryland’s TTY Relay Service.
An office that serves the deaf should have its own equipment to deal with their calls, said Kelby Brick of the Maryland Association of the Deaf.
“Their phone line is inaccessible for the deaf and hard of hearing,” said Brick, a legislative consultant who always has been deaf. “And that’s just one example of the lack of regard and sensitivity of this office.”
Two bills to set up a new agency, the Office for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, are before the Maryland General Assembly.
Brick said he’s already gotten positive feedback from legislators in a Senate hearing last week, but “the biggest obstacle is really the governor.”
Glendening is for inclusion, his spokeswoman said: He’d rather make changes to the current office than set up a new separate office for the hearing impaired.
Yet, at least five Maryland studies show the only way to address hearing impaired residents’ problems is to open a separate office, as more than 30 states already have.
Maryland, which has more than 500,000, hard of hearing and deaf citizens, has the largest number of hearing impaired people per capita in the country.
To lack an office that meets the needs of such a large population is “embarrassing,” said Nancy Bloch, executive director of the National Association of the Deaf.
Sen. Thomas Bromwell, D-Baltimore County, Senate Finance Committee chairman, is one of the key legislators pushing for the new office. His wife, Mary Pat has been an interpreter for the hearing impaired and he said: “She has made me understand the issue.”
“Deafness is the silent disability,” she said. “And that’s why it’s so important this office be set up.”
Sen. Timothy Ferguson, R-Carroll, who introduced the bill in the Senate, said he has a personal tie with hearing impaired community because he has family members who are deaf and he, himself, is 30 percent deaf in one ear and 10 percent deaf in the other. As for Glendening’s opposition, Ferguson said: “It’s always hard to admit you’re not doing enough . . . But it’s time.” -30- CNS-03-02-01