Feature Writer John Christie – Access Network on the Chopping Block in Massachusetts

The deaf and deaf-blind of Massachusetts may lose a program that they greatly need to have an independent lifestyle. The program is called the Access Network.

The program may end soon if the Massachusetts governor has his way. If his current budget goes through for 2012, the $450,000 that the state spends on the program will be eliminated. The Community Access Network provides 16 hours of service to the deaf and deaf-blind community a month

Ona Stewart depends on this program, especially since she doesn’t have family nearby. The decade old program provides her with aides. She communicates with these aides through tactile sign language. In addition, they take her to community meetings, run errands for her, and assist her in living a fulfilling life..

“If they really do this, I would be devastated,’’ she said through an interpreter on a recent afternoon in the Allston office where the program is run. “I would be so scared. I would no longer be able to live independently. I would be lost.”

B administrative officials said that they must make undesirable cuts. They have to close a $1.2 billion budget gap.

“In the face of unprecedented fiscal challenges, we’ve been forced to make some very difficult budget decisions that no agency wants to be faced with,’’ said Paulette Song, a spokeswoman for the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services. “We are working hard to mitigate the impact of budget constraints on the deaf-blind community, and to ensure that direct services to the most vulnerable members of the community are preserved.’’

But advocates for the deaf and blind say that the cuts go too far and the consequences would be terrible.

Without the program, “a deaf-blind person faces dangerous risks to safety, including increased opportunities for abuse, increased health problems that are allowed to go unchecked, resulting in possible hospitalizations due to failing health, mental health problems, and institutionalizations,’’ said Sharon L. Applegate, executive director of Deaf, Inc., the Allston organization that oversees the program. She also stated that “people will lose their independence and their safety, and the resulting costs could be devastating.’’

Elaine Ducharme, the director of the Access Network, is worried about losing services. She said that it would make it challenging to accomplish simple tasks such as buying milk.  The 33 interpreters and service providers of the program remain vital to her and the others. Without these interpreters and service providers, it would be hard to live and do her job she said. They drive her to meetings and assist her with exercising. In addition, they help her assist with others in her program.

“If these cuts occur, deaf-blind people will be left with nothing,’’ Ducharme said through an interpreter. “We’re just begging the state to reconsider. The cuts would have a terrible impact.’’

Politicians need to understand that when vital programs like these are cut, they are alienating an entire group of people from the world.  These cuts greatly affect their lives in ways that they cannot possibly comprehend without having experienced it for themselves.  Other areas for budget cuts need to be carefully evaluated before they eliminate this service.

Source: http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/health/articles/2011/03/05/imperiled_state_program_a_lifeline_for_deaf_and_blind/?page=2

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