Hi! My name is Liz Hill. I am a PSAD Board member and chair of the education committee. The two biggest priorities that the education committee has been working on is Language Readiness for Deaf Kids bill and Early Hearing Detection Intervention (EHDI). The first priority is Language Readiness legislation. The goal is to have every child language-ready by Kindergarten. Some deaf kids are not exposed to language early on and then are delayed when they enter school. Similar types of legislation has passed in other states. The goal is to establish language benchmarks for kids to be assessed every year to make sure they are developing language at the same pace as their hearing peers. This will help parents determine early on if their child is progressing in language acquisition at the pace they should be. The Education Committee has been working on proposed legislation that fits Pennsylvania’s educational structure and political needs. Stakeholders will be contacted soon to be involved in this transparent process.
The other priority is EHDI. I attended the first EHDI Advisory Council meeting in September. Once a baby is identified as deaf, then parents are connected with early intervention teams. Parents receive an informational packet about communication options – ASL, oral, cued speech, etc. The packet could use some improvement in the information about sign language and the latest scientific research about benefits of exposure early on to sign language. I found out that the packet is put together by the EHDI Advisory Council and there are no deaf members on it. Currently, the PA Code that established the Council says that it only has six (6) members and there is no mention of a requirement to be inclusive. The result is the Council is mostly made up of audiologists and medical professionals.
Then, I was invited to be a part of the Council’s agenda for their December meeting. In December, I gave a presentation to the EHDI Advisory Council on behalf of PSAD. In my presentation, I covered three main points: a) that there is research that highlights the benefits of early exposure to sign language regardless of whether parents plan to pursue spoken language; b) that early intervention (EI) teams should have paid ASL communication specialists in all families’ homes to teach sign language just like EI teams automatically have a speech language pathologist — we need equity among both sign language and spoken language development and acquisition; and last but definitely not least, c) the EHDI Advisory Council currently has no members from deaf organizations like PSAD, PSD, WPSD, and Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (ODHH). The Council was encouraged to consider a more inclusive, balanced membership.
After my presentation, members of the Council gave positive feedback. However, at the end of the meeting, when it was opened up for public comments, there was a woman who introduced herself as Theresa Bulgar. She proceeded to voice very strong opposition to my presentation. I later found out that Ms. Bulgar has been a very strong opponent of ASL in several states including Pennsylvania.
If you are interested in this issue, contact your local legislator and encourage them to change the PA Code to include deaf members and deaf organizations. If you have questions, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com. Thank you!