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Spring 2005 Table of Contents
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By Kris Cué, Texas Deaf-Blind Representative for the National SSP Pilot Project Committee, Austin, TX

Abstract: Kris Cué discusses the Support Service Providers Pilot Project, a program that would allow deafblind individuals increased accessibility and participation in society. Three senators, including Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, have sponsored the legislation to fund a National SSP Pilot Project, with one of the three sites to be located in Austin.

Key Words: Support Service Providers, SSP Pilot Project, legislation, Kay Bailey Hutchison, deafblind, Deaf-Blind Service Center

There is a new and exciting venture about to happen in our great state of Texas involving the deaf-blind community! As the Texas Deaf-Blind Representative for this “new and exciting venture”, it is my intent here to tell you all about it! The name of this new venture is the “National SSP Pilot Project”. Allow me to give you some history regarding how this project came about and then I will give you the latest information on its progress on Capitol Hill.

Most of you reading this newsletter know, either by personal experience or by research, that there are many, many people in the United States who are deaf-blind. Deaf-blind folks are those who experience both vision and hearing losses because of various etiologies. Because of their dual sensory loss, deaf-blind people experience communication barriers and limited opportunities for employment and education in their lives. It is also difficult for a deaf-blind person to access transportation and necessary information about their environments.

A service that has proven to benefit deaf-blind individuals in Seattle, Washington (a nationally renowned deaf-blind community) is a network of skilled, trained people called Support Service Providers, or SSP’s. SSP’s are specifically trained and hired to work with persons who have both hearing and vision losses. Support Service Providers do NOT fill the roles of a personal care attendant, a sign language interpreter, or caregiver to the deaf-blind individual. They also do not make decisions for the deaf-blind person. Rather, SSP’s specifically and only provide visual and environmental information, sighted guide services and accessibility information in order for the deaf-blind individual to make his/her own informed decisions. With the assistance of SSP’s, deaf-blind people here in Texas would be able to obtain and keep a job, do job-related tasks such as reading job announcements and office memos or travel for business. They could also participate in the political process by voting, run errands, read mail, make purchases and do tasks anyone with normal hearing and sight could do. The deaf-blind people in Seattle, who have SSP services available, are no longer isolated by barriers to information and businesses, and they can participate more fully in society.

The Deaf-Blind Service Center located in Seattle, Washington has a model SSP program. Deaf-blind persons living in Seattle have received the services of trained SSP’s for the past 20 years. Research conducted by the Deaf-Blind Service Center in Seattle shows that there are only four other states that provide statewide SSP services to their deaf-blind citizens: Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota and Utah. Eight other states– Arkansas, Arizona, California, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin – have some form of SSP services, but only in local cities or counties. There are NO such services available in Texas.

At the 2003 American Association for the Deaf-Blind (AADB) Convention in San Diego, California, the need for SSP services became an important goal. During this particular AADB Convention, its members informed the AADB Board about their concerns and need for SSP services nationally. The Seattle Deaf-Blind Service Center staff and Board members also approached the AADB Board about the idea of becoming partners to work on establishing national SSP services. In the Spring of 2004, Seattle Deaf-Blind Service Center (DBSC) staff and Board members met with AADB’s staff and Board members and together they went to educate several members of the U.S. Congress about the need for national SSP services. The members of Congress advised them to first select 2 or 3 sites with a need for SSP services in the country, and then to set up pilot studies in those selected sites. If the results of the pilot studies show positive changes for the deaf-blind people who received SSP services in those sites, Congress might be able to provide money to help other states set up SSP services.

After meeting with members of Congress, the Seattle DBSC began putting together the National SSP Pilot Project, with the AADB in Silver Spring, Maryland and the Helen Keller National Center (HKNC) in Sands Point, New York acting as supporting partners. These partners agreed that the Seattle DBSC would be the lead agency and would also be responsible for the administration of the money for the pilot project.

As partners for this pilot project, the Seattle DBSC, AADB and HKNC agreed to then select three areas for the pilot sites, as they were advised to do by members of Congress. The first site selected was the state of Washington in order to expand their existing SSP services outside of Seattle to include all of Washington State. The second and third sites chosen were the Maryland/Virginia/Washington, D.C. Metro area and AUSTIN, TEXAS!! The criteria for selecting these two additional sites were: 1) both sites have deaf-blind leaders who have had formal leadership training during the past 2 years in Seattle; 2) both sites have a need for SSP services and a large deaf-blind community; 3) both sites have deaf-blind leaders who are familiar with and have personally experienced Seattle DBSC’s SSP services and have received training from the Seattle DBSC staff; 4) both sites have deaf-blind community members ready to work on setting up SSP services and have already started volunteering their time and efforts for this work; and 5) both sites have deaf-blind leaders immediately ready to volunteer many hours for this important project. After selecting the pilot sites and the deaf-blind leaders to represent the MD/VA/DC Metro and Austin, Texas areas, the National SSP Pilot Project Committee was formed. Members of this committee are:

In the Summer of 2004, the National SSP Pilot Project Committee held its first meeting in Seattle. A second meeting of the committee was held in Austin, Texas, in November of 2004 after sharing a day of training on the political process (presented by Joe McNulty of HKNC) with AADB Board members. During the last week of January 2005 the National SSP Pilot Project Committee members went to Washington, D.C. to personally meet with their respective senators, from Washington, Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C. Metro area and Texas, to educate them about the project. Each committee member took with them letters of support from several major organizations and/or heads of agencies that provide community services to the deaf-blind citizen in their states. Copies of these letters of support were given to each senator that committee members met with in Washington, D.C. to show that each pilot site chosen had the support of organizations and agencies serving the deaf-blind.

Senators Murray and Cantwell from the state of Washington are the official senate sponsors of the Appropriations Request for the National SSP Pilot Project funding currently being considered for presentation to the all-powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. While in Washington, D.C., we learned early on that Texas’ own Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee!

After the committee’s trip to D.C. to educate senators about the project, a letter-writing campaign by the deaf-blind citizens and their family members and friends was undertaken in each state chosen to be a pilot site. These letters were written to show our senators and representatives in D.C. that we need SSP services in our state and are ready and willing to carry out the goals of the National SSP Pilot Project should it be approved for funding on Capitol Hill. These letters were, of course, sent directly to Senator Hutchison’s office in D.C. ASAP!

Did our efforts pay off? Here’s the good news: One week after the committee met with our senators in D.C., we got word from Senator Hutchison’s office that she was joining Senators Murray and Cantwell in sponsoring the Appropriations Request for funding of the National SSP Pilot Project!! It is our hope that this Appropriations Request will earn the approval of the majority of the senators on the Appropriations Committee and continue through the necessary political process from now until October 2005 when it will be officially voted on by the U.S. Congress. When we succeed in obtaining funding for this historical project, Texas will become a pioneer state for SSP services for its deaf-blind citizens! The goal of the National SSP Pilot Project – after completion of the pilot sites’ successful outcome reports in 2008 – is to establish a national network of professionally trained and skilled SSP’s. For more information about this project, or if you want to know how to help, please contact:

Gail Ploman, Executive Director, Seattle DBSC
1620 18th Avenue, Suite 200, Seattle, WA 98122
E-mail: gploman@seattledbsc.org
Phone/TTY: 206-325-7241 OR

Kris Cué, Texas Deaf-Blind Representative, National SSP Pilot Project Committee and Facilitator, Usher Syndrome Support Group of Texas
2113 Surrender Avenue, Austin, TX 78728
E-mail: kcue@sbcglobal.net
Phone: 512-251-2550

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Last Revision: September 1, 2010