Successful DHHS Partnership to Help Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Deaf-Blind Children Highlighted

DSDHH Director Jan Withers and EHDI Coordinator Marcia Fort celebrate their partnership at the National Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Conference.

DSDHH Director Jan Withers and EHDI Coordinator Marcia Fort celebrate their partnership at the National Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Conference.

March 20, 2019 – Increased cooperation and cross-divisional partnerships were cited as essential to improving DHHS’ service to North Carolina families with Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Deaf-Blind children at the 2019 National Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Conference, held March 5 in Chicago.

In a joint presentation, Jan Withers, director for DHHS’ Division of Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DSDHH), and Marcia Fort, the NC Division of Public Health’s Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) coordinator, spoke about how recent collaboration between the two groups has already helped overcome obstacles to success.

The presentation, “Journey to a Better Understanding – Overcoming Hesitations and Misperceptions to Create Partnership,” focused on EHDI’s efforts to increase participation within the state’s Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Deaf-Blind population. EHDI began this process by getting key organizations and agencies, such as the North Carolina Association of the Deaf and the North Carolina School for the Deaf, to join the NC EHDI Advisory Committee. Fort then attended the Deaf Tarheels Festival and a North Carolina Association of the Deaf board meeting in 2018 in the hopes of making further inroads with the Deaf community.

“When Fort attended those events, it opened a line of communication,” said Withers. “It started to build trust between EHDI and the Deaf community.”

The Deaf community had a misperception about EHDI that needed addressing. The Deaf community believed EHDI focused only on auditory and speech development, ignoring American Sign Language (ASL) as an option for Deaf or Hard of Hearing children. Without the use of ASL, the adult Deaf and Hard of Hearing community couldn’t work with EHDI to support families. EHDI cleared up this confusion, stating that ASL was indeed an option for Deaf or Hard of Hearing Children. With that obstacle overcome, the Deaf community was comfortable partnering with EHDI. 

“This helped both groups realize that they have the same long-term goals,” said Fort. “We all want the best outcomes for Deaf and Hard of Hearing children, regardless of communication mode or cultural preferences.”

Since then, the success of the EHDI partnership with DSDHH has been setting the stage to reduce duplicative efforts and improve services to families with Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Deaf-Blind children.

For 18 years, the National Early Hearing Detection and Intervention conference has worked to expand implementation of comprehensive, state-based EHDI programs. The conference brings together people working in state EHDI programs, those who provide screening, diagnostic and early intervention support to young children with hearing loss, parents of children with hearing loss, and Deaf or Hard of Hearing adults looking to find more opportunities for children with hearing loss. DSDHH serves as EHDI’s portal to the state’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing community.

Author: 
Ryan Hill