HONOLULU — Deaf people and their advocates are fighting to keep state-funded services for the deaf, even though state officials have said it is too early to worry that services will be cut.
The worry stems from an announcement from the state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation that some services for the deaf would end on June 30 because of a lack of funds.
The state Department of Human Services has said it is premature to worry. The agency also said it is searching for funds to preserve a state-funded interpreter referral and independent living services for the deaf. And, it said, it is reviewing the two contracts, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
The two-year contract for the interpreter referral service, which assists employers, hospitals, schools and deaf people themselves in finding qualified interpreters, costs $160,000.
The state spent $200,000 over two years, meanwhile, for the adjustment services contract, which includes training, classes and counseling to help deaf, blind and deaf-blind individuals live independently.
“The programs are still operating and the department is optimistic it will re-procure these valued services in the next fiscal year,” DHS Director Patricia McManaman said in a statement. “We are making every effort to ensure continuity of these services.”
Advocates for the deaf say hundreds of deaf and hard-of-hearing people rely on the services. Ami Tsuji-Jones, a spokeswoman for the deaf community, said without the referral service, deaf people will be left scrambling to find qualified interpreters for different situations, including at work.
Lisa Ann Tom, chairwoman of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Advisory Board, said that if the deaf community had been informed earlier about the lack of funds, it could have helped secure money for the programs.
“We are very frustrated. They owe us an explanation,” Tom said.
Deaf advocate Colleen Cidade-Matusof said the services are already bare-bones and that cutting them could leave many deaf and hard-of-hearing people without opportunities to be participating members of their communities.
“It is irresponsible to have these services removed,” she said, through an interpreter. “How can we live without these services?”