Did you know that the small business administration, under their SBA 8(a) program, provides help to small businesses owned by women, veterans, and socially or economically disadvantaged individuals?
Benefits such as classes on how to start a business, how to file for taxes, how to manage employees, and how to write a business plan and secure loans are all provided.
The 8(a) program also helps small business owners compete to win contracts with the Federal Government. But under current 8(a) regulations, businesses owned by people with disabilities do not get to participate or reap the benefits of this important program.
To contact the SBA and ask that businesses owned by people with disabilities be allowed to benefit from the SBA 8(a) program, contact the SBA Office of Policy, Planning and Liaison at SBA’s Office of Policy, Planning, and Liaison. To learn more about the 8(a) program, visit this SBA webpage: SBA Business Development.
In early February, the United States Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education.
During Mrs. DeVos’ hearing, advocates for the Deaf and hard of hearing witnessed the nominee reply to a question from Senator Tim Kaine (D, VA) about the IDEA (Individual with Disabilities Education Act, the Federal law that upon its passage in 1986 marked a watershed moment for the education of the Deaf and hard of hearing in the United States), with an answer that suggested that she was unaware that IDEA was binding in all states.
In many ways, Mrs. DeVos’ reply to Senator Kaine represents a challenge to decades of progress made in improving educational outcomes for Deaf and hard of hearing students. In the face of this challenge it is important now, more than ever, to understand the impact that IDEA had on the education of Deaf and hard of hearing children across America – and the progress that we must still make to ensure that Deaf and hard of hearing children receive the education that they deserve.
Originally dubbed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, IDEA introduced IEPs, or Individualized Education Plans, to schools alongside the concepts of the LRE (least restrictive environment) and FAPE (free appropriate public education). These laws were meant to provide children with the opportunity to obtain an education equal to their peers, and particularly for Deaf and hard of hearing children it meant the beginning of slow development of local public school capacity to meet their communication needs.
In 1997, in part due to a setback in 1982, Board of Education v. Rowley, in which the Supreme Court ruled essentially that under IDEA school districts need only provide students with an “adequate” education, and that “equal” educational opportunities – such as could be achieved by providing students with a sign language interpreter — would be “entirely unworkable”, IDEA was reauthorized and strengthened. Among the improvements to IDEA were requirements to take greater heed of students’ language and communication needs and to provide opportunities for direct instruction in students’ language and communication mode.
Over the years, building upon IDEA has gone slowly. Regulations implementing IDEA in 1999 explicitly listed, at long last, sign language as a native language for the Deaf and hard of hearing. On March 22nd, 2017, in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that its decision in Board of Education v. Rowley should not be construed as allowing schools to provide “merely more than de minimis” educational benefits and that IEPs are to be “appropriately ambitious… every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.” But reaction has been mixed, with some advocates arguing that the vague language in the Supreme Court’s majority opinion did not go far enough to raise the bar in terms of what is expected of schools.
Notwithstanding the progress that has been made possible by IDEA, much more work remains in other areas equally important to the educational development of Deaf and hard of hearing children.
Residential schools for the Deaf, bastions of American Sign Language and Deaf culture, are under assault, with their financing remaining stagnant and in some cases being cut. Since 2011, five schools for the Deaf have closed, depriving Deaf students in those areas of educational choice. To strengthen educational options for the Deaf, CEASD, the Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf, has worked with Congress to introduce the Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act, which would, if passed, require states to improve the educational programs and services they provide to Deaf children, and would financially penalize states who close schools for the Deaf. Click here to learn more about the Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act, and how to petition your Member of Congress to co-sponsor this important bill.
Another area with broad room for improvement: ensuring young children are exposed to language at as early an age as possible. This has been a persistent challenge; for a long time for newborns, failure to detect hearing loss in a timely manner was rampant, leading, for many, to delayed language acquisition and subsequent language-based learning disabilities.
The passage of EHDI, the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Act, in 2000, led to the establishment of EHDI programs in states, enabling earlier hearing loss detection and opportunities to obtain intervention services. The rate of newborns screened shot up from 44% when EHDI was passed by Congress, to 98% in recent years.
But more than 90 percent of Deaf children are born to hearing parents, and specialists that these parents interact with following EHDI testing do not always offer a full range of data and choices with which to determine the optimal language acquisition path for their children. American Sign Language (ASL), specifically, despite being supported by a body of research demonstrating its educational and social benefits, is not always offered as an option to parents. Consequently, language deprivation and subsequent language-based learning disabilities remain a significant problem despite the improved early detection rate of hearing loss.
To ensure that Deaf children are not deprived of language development, LEAD-K, Language Equality & Acquisition for Deaf Kids, is leading a nationwide effort to pass legislation at the state level that would require language development testing for Deaf children from ages 0 to 5, the critical language acquisition period in a child’s life. Crucially, the legislation LEAD-K supports would ensure that information regarding ASL be offered to parents of Deaf children to empower them with a full range of choices with which to lead their children to maximize their language acquisition. To support LEAD-K and find out how you can advocate for legislation in your state, click here.
We have much more work ahead of us to maximize the potential of all Deaf and hard of hearing children. We welcome your support in this effort. Click here to receive updates on educational issues and to continue to learn how you can be a part of this effort.
David Bahar is Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs for Communication Service for the Deaf and a board member of the Lexington School & Center for the Deaf in New York City.
The biennial conference of Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc. (TDI) took place August 19–22.
Fortunately, unlike the 2013 conference, this year’s did not take place during a government shutdown, enabling a large Federal Communications Commission (FCC) presence that translated into multiple workshops detailing disability access rule-making currently underway at the FCC.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler gave the keynote address on the first day of the conference, revealing that the FCC has created a new name for the staid-sounding Video Access Technology Reference Platform: Accessible Communications for Everyone (ACE). ACE, for the uninitiated, is essentially an open source video endpoint that works on Mac, Windows, Android and iOS. Along with the name change, a significant announcement was made through playback of a video of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio stating the City of New York’s intention to implement ACE. While light on details, the announcement was welcome; widespread adoption of ACE should have positive far-reaching benefits for deaf and hard of hearing communities across the U.S.
I was able to attend a workshop that focused on the headway being made in captioning quality on television, as well as one where representatives of all six video relay service (VRS) providers gave updates on their progress in achieving functional equivalency. Separately from the workshops, there were two FCC-led town hall sessions: one with a panel of FCC staff discussing the development of their various rulemaking processes implementing Title I of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), and one with a smaller FCC panel discussing their progress on implementing Title II of the CVAA.
Finally, Eve Hill of the Department of Justice (DOJ) gave a presentation outlining the progress the DOJ has made with respect to disability access in the 25 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Significant progress has been made, and most were touched upon during Ms. Hill’s presentation. However, I noted a glaring omission in the list of issues Ms. Hill touched upon: access to 911 services. This is an area that has—very unfortunately—seen serious regression since 1990.
Indeed, in 1990 when the ADA was passed, public safety answering points (PSAPs) were required to directly receive TTY calls without relying on relay services. In fact, Title II of the ADA prohibits PSAPs from relying on relay services, but with the decline in TTY usage and the proliferation of newer forms of relay service (such as VRS and IP relay), TTYs have, in large part, gone out of vogue. This has left a large swath of deaf and hard of hearing people with only one way to access 911 that clashes with the ADA mandate: indirectly, through relay services.
The Emergency Access Advisory Committee (EAAC), the formation of which was required by Congress in the CVAA, ultimately stated that ideal communications with 911 eliminates third parties sitting between 911 callers and PSAPs, by providing direct connection of callers to PSAPs. For those who are Deaf and are fluent in ASL, EAAC found that the ideal connection was through a direct video and text link to an ASL-fluent dispatcher.
The conference was very educational, and it is gratifying to see so much progress being made in raising the bar with accessibility. But, I would have liked to hear more about what is being done today to address the 911 problem. This needs to be a priority, but unfortunately at present the DOJ is taking a position – more or less – of “no comment”, despite the requirements of the ADA and the recommendations of the EAAC. Until headway can be made with the DOJ, CSD will publicly advocate for direct video access to PSAPs, in line with the recommendations made by the EAAC.
By David Bahar
A New York Daily News article  revealed continuing problems in the New York Police Department with respect to the accommodations it provides to the deaf and hard-of-hearing. As a public entity, the NYPD has obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide qualified individuals with a disability with effective communication. For deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals that use American Sign Language, the definition of effective communication can include a sign language interpreter.
However, for both Diana Williams and Robert Rapa, sign language interpreters were not provided during their initial encounters with the police, or during their time at the police station. Surprisingly, the officer arresting Diana went so far as to indicate on the arrest report that an interpreter was not needed, and that she did not have a disability.
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