Written by: George Stern
When the seminal Deafblind Young Adults in Action seminar took place in June of 2009, it was the advent of many pivotal firsts: the first time advocacy and accessibility were systematically combined to provide a fully-accessible leadership experience for deafblind participants; the first time many of the participants had ever encountered equally ambitious, civic-minded deafblind peers in a shared environment; the first time many legislators and regulatory agency heads came face to face with the diversity that deafblindness represents; and the first time a group of deafblind people were welcomed into the oval office by a sitting president. Gallaudet University is where we stayed, that first exhilarating summer, and many summers afterward as DBYAA’s momentum grew and its alumni reshaped it into an organization: Deafblind Citizens in Action. The Helen Keller National Center was our main sponsor that year, and has continued to be a valuable partner in the years since, providing invaluable networks and mentoring.
And so, it is with more than academic concern that we note the proposed cuts to entities like HKNC, Gallaudet University, and even the American Printing House for the Blind in Secretary DeVos’s budget for fiscal year 2020. The rationale offered for this $25.6 million decrease is that:
“The request would provide substantial resources to maintain operations and programs for these institutions, while also maintaining the fiscal discipline necessary to support the President’s goal of increasing support for national security and public safety without adding to the Federal budget deficit.”
We will let others parse the mathematical sense of this statement and argue the political justice of it; our concern the inarguable realities faced by the deafblind community in particular and the disability community as a whole. The job market- in which people with disabilities remain extremely underrepresented – is changing in significant ways; technology is progressing by leaps and bounds, with profound implications for education, health care, employment, and community access; climate change is forcing people of every ability to adjust how we live in tandem with the earth; and the disability community is undergoing a springtime of innovative thought and reordered priorities around all these interrelated issues. Quite bluntly, it is difficult to conceive how special institutions like HKNC, Gallaudet, and APH will be able to effectively serve in this turbulent landscape of needs with less funding. Less funding equals fewer resources, fewer resources necessitates a more limited range of effective action – all at a time when the needs of the community demand flexibility, innovation, and energetic engagement. Special institutions need the staff to be able to handle the influx as needs as the disability community swells with an influx of ageing boomers and wounded veterans; they need the research budget to be able to generate solutions before issues rise to the level of problems; they need budgets that support recruitment and community engagement so that they will be in tune with the realities of the people they serve.
The author Fredrik Backman, of “A Man Called Ove” fame, has another book in which he notes: “A community is the sum total of all our choices.” We at DBCA hope to encourage wise, reality-based choices that lead us to a community we can all be proud of.
We at DBCA request the disability community and its supporters to come together to reach out to their representatives to let them know that you support institutions like Gallaudet, APH, NTID and HKNC and urge you to tell them that you do not support these cuts. Thank you!
Signed: DBCA Executive Team