New Law Monumental For Deaf Community

Wednesday, October 28, 2015
At the heart of its mission, the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults exists to empower people and build communities. It is the goal of the organization that people of all ages leave the Partnership feeling whole, recognized and helped. Replacing needs with fulfilment. Identifying the gaps in our community and filling them with services. Gaps like, the ways in which deaf and abused children are recognized and brought to safety.  It’s an issue that has been long overlooked and in turn, plaguing the deaf community for decades.

Did you know, 50 percent of deaf girls have been sexually abused as compared to 25 percent of girls with hearing? And, 54 percent of deaf boys have been sexually abused as compared to 10 percent of hearing boys*.

It’s a sad statistic, unsurprising to Sharon Bryant, the Client Services Manager for the Partnership’s Deaf Services program. She herself is deaf and explains, “Many abusers use a deaf person’s communication challenges as a means of silencing victims.” So much so, an estimated 50 to 90 percent of deaf children are believed to be abused.**

Until recently, deaf children suspected of being abused, relied on their parents or family members to be the sign language interpreter for law enforcement agents and investigators. It’s a stark contrast to the process of questioning fully communicable abused children. In those cases, the child is questioned free from the potential abuser, in a safe, comfortable environment. It’s a disparity so glaring, it’s somewhat astonishing it’s taken until 2015 to be acted upon. But alas it has.

Last June, Bryan worked tirelessly with Poppy Steele, Executive Director of the Sign Club Company; Senator Ferrell Haile; Brenda Sellers, President of the Tennessee Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf; and Paul Robertson, President of the Tennessee Association for the Deaf (TAD) to draft critical legislation protecting deaf children. Senate Bill 594, signed into law on June 10, forbids parents or family members from being the interpreter for deaf children in cases of suspected abuse, domestic violence or neglect. SB594 requires qualified American Sign Language interpreters be used either in person, or by way of video remote interpreting. “It’s the first law of its kind in the Country”, Bryant said. Soon after watching Governor Haslam ink the bill into law, Bryant made it known she did not want to stop there. “I told him that I hoped we could work together promoting the legal rights of deaf people in the future.” Earlier this month, the Partnership hosted workshops for law enforcement officials and ASL interpreters on what to look for and how to respond to the particular needs of deaf and abused children. 

Sadly for the agency, Bryant, is retiring from the Partnership in November. Thankfully, however, she is not hanging up her hat on advocating for the rights of deaf people. The current legislative chairperson of TAD, Bryant says she will work to see more laws of this nature be put in place across the country. As it stands, Tennessee is the only state in the country with a law of this nature. “I want deaf people to be safe, know their rights, and know that it’s not ok to be abused. Deaf victims of abuse are innocent and have a right to communicate.”

Partnership’s Deaf Services facilitates communication to deaf and hard of hearing people in their everyday lives. The program assists with court appearances, doctor or dental appointments and a wide variety of additional situations that may arise in everyday living.

Services include:

·         Interpreting Services

·         Access to Video Relay Service

·         Job Placement and Retention Services

·         American Sign Language Classes

Services for the deaf are free of charge. Interpreting services for businesses are offered at fair and competitive rates. The staff are highly trained, experienced interpreters.

Bergen Aldahir


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