Vermont Legislature Introduces Bills Addressing Services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Both houses of the Vermont Legislature have introduced bills pertaining to the deaf and hard of hearing, in response to growing concerns about available services to this population in the state.

With the closure of Austine School and the Vermont Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in 2014, advocates are pressing policymakers to pass a Bill of Rights for Children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, and also establish a commission to look at how services are provided and can be improved.

The text of Senate bill S.66, as introduced, can be found here.

The text of the House Bill, H.140, can be found here.

A Bill of Rights for Children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing is proposed in both bills to address services for deaf and hard of hearing students.

The Bill of Rights for Children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing is essentially the same in both S.66 and H.140. In general, the bills affirm that children who are deaf or hard of hearing have the following:

  1. a right to appropriate, early, and ongoing assessment of capabilities and needs;
  2. a right to early intervention and ongoing educational opportunities for communication and language development;
  3. a right to family supports that enable communication and informed parental participation in educational decision-making;
  4. a right to appropriate educational placement decisions that take into account all of the factors pertinent to this population;
  5. a right to full communication and language access in all educational environments; and
  6. a right to ongoing exposure to adult role models.

Both of the bills also establish a thirteen-member Commission for Persons who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. The Commission’s purpose is to assess and make recommendations about educational services, resources and opportunities for children who are deaf and hard of hearing, and their families. The Commission would also provide advice and oversight on policy and program administration related to services for this population. The biggest differences between the two bills are found in the make-up of the commission and the funding for it.

In the Senate bill, the Commission is comprised of 5 people who are deaf or hard of hearing; 2 parents of children who are deaf or hard of hearing; 2 people who provide services to the deaf or hard of hearing; one senior VR counselor from the Department of Disabilities, Aging, and Independent Living (DAIL); and one appointee each from the Agency of Education, the Department of Health, and the Department of Labor. The Senate bill positions the Commission within the Department of DAIL, so that costs would come out of that department’s operating budget.

The House version includes the following people on the Commission: only 3 people who are deaf or hard of hearing; 2 parents of children who are deaf or hard of hearing; only one person who actually provides services to this population; the chairs of the Senate and House Committees on Education, the chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare; the chair of the House Committee on Human Services; one senior VR counselor from DAIL; and appointees from the Agency of Education and the Department of Labor. The House version only allocates funds through fiscal year 2016.

Nine East Network is tracking this legislation and will post updates as they come.