By Maggie Clark email@example.com
Published: Saturday, March 26, 2016 at 5:06 p.m. Last Modified: Saturday, March 26, 2016 at 5:06 p.m.
After 31 years serving deaf and hearing-impaired residents of Sarasota and Manatee County, the Community Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing - which currently serves 3,000 people, mostly seniors - is slated to close on April 30.
A confluence of factors - limited grant opportunities, new technologies to help people with hearing problems communicate and little government funding - combined to render the organization unsustainable, said board chair Patrick Jaehne.
“We couldn’t really charge for our services because they’re functions that need to be done in the community for free,” Jaehne said. “We’ve also been dependent on grants, but those have dried up. It wasn’t sustainable for us to keep going.”
The Sarasota closing mirrors a national trend of funding cuts for help for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, said Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf.
“More and more state and local governments are cutting funding for social services, including to centers that provide valuable services to deaf and hard of hearing people who need such services,” Rosenblum said.
Judith Wilcox, Executive Director of the Sarasota-based center, points to the rise of texting and video calls as a reason more hard-of-hearing young people don’t seek help for communication, and why fewer people need amplified landline phones, which is a key service the center offers. Additionally, babies who are born now with a hearing deficit are typically referred for cochlear implants - an electronic medical device that replaces the function of a damaged middle ear - so they are not as developmentally delayed as children in the past, Wilcox said.
The Southwest Florida adult deaf community is also supported by agencies other than the center, and has been for a long time, said Charlene McCarthy, owner of Viscom Interpreting Services, a sign language interpreting firm helping clients in Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties. McCarthy’s firm provides one-on-one sign language interpreting, which allows deaf clients to communicate through an interpreter in doctor’s appointments, college classes, emergency rooms and even jail. The number of deaf adults seeking help at the center has been declining for the last decade, as they weren’t providing services that adults needed, McCarthy said.
Many of the center’s clients are seniors who still rely on the center to provide them with amplified landline phones to help them communicate. They also teach American Sign Language to children and parents with limited hearing, to help them communicate with each other.