“It’s time to stand up and say ‘I matter.’ It’s time for the state of Nevada to stand up and say, ‘the deaf and hard of hearing matter.'”
Imagine living in a world where you can’t hear. Now imagine being the parent of a child who is not only deaf, but they don’t have the resources available to communicate with you, let alone the rest of the world. I can only imagine the frustration this must cause for thousands of Nevadans.
You might be asking yourself, “Really, Alex? Thousands of Nevadans?” Yes, there are roughly 38,000 Nevadans, between the ages of 18 and 65, who are deaf and hard of hearing. You also might be surprised to learn that until nearly two years ago there were no resources for the deaf and hard of hearing in our state. So what changed?
Deaf Centers of Nevada(DCN) was founded, and while they’ve helped a lot of people in that time, they still have more work to do. But they are in need of more funding to keep up with their growing client roster.
To break it down, DCN has three goals to better serve the deaf and hard of hearing community:
- Support deaf and hard of hearing individuals to attain independent living
- Provide educational outreach, community building events and civil rights advocacy programs
- Strive for equal communication access in all aspects of daily life
“This has truly been one of the greatest experiences that I’ve ever encountered in my life,” said Kevin Carter, Executive Director of DCN. “Here was this hearing guy, who barely knew how to sign, who’s standing up in front of you two years ago saying ‘trust me. We’re going to get a center going, get some things going,’ and you trusted me.”
Without DCN, many Nevadans say they would be at a loss. Eric Wilcox now serves as the president of DCN’s affiliate organization, Nevada Hands & Voices, but he first got involved as a client.
“From that moment when we got the diagnosis, when our daughter was a few months old, we were pretty lost. And having a community, through Nevada Hands & Voices, of other parents to network with was incredibly valuable,” said Wilcox.
His daughter, Lucy, is now five years old, and even though Wilcox and his wife weren’t initially fluent in American Sign Language (ASL), they are now able to communicate with their daughter thanks to the resources available through DCN and Nevada Hands & Voices.
“For us it was kind of like being thrust into a whole new world with a new set of challenges we had no experience to draw on,” said Wilcox. “It’s very difficult for parents to gain access to ASL here if you can’t afford or find the time to take a class at community college. They provide free ASL classes here at DCN, and the deaf mentoring program is extremely valuable. Casey, who is on the staff here at DCN, comes to our house once a month and works with us. We talk through communication struggles we’re having, and we’re able to draw on his lifetime of experience.”
In the past two years, 43 new deaf individuals have moved to Nevada, meaning there is a higher need for more resources. DCN is asking for more grant money to hire two job developers, three case specialists, three deaf mentors and relocate to a bigger building.
“We need to hire more deaf mentors. Right now we have 17 families waiting for a deaf mentor, and the only way they can get a deaf mentor is if a family ages out. That could be years.” said Carter. “If we have a new family and they have an 18 month or two year old child and they’re receiving services that means a family could be waiting three years before they’re able to get a deaf mentor. And having a deaf mentor is critical to the state of Nevada.”
DCN has been awarded $1.6 million in grants by the state each year for the the past two years. This year, they are asking for an additional $500,000 to better serve the community. It’s an ask that parents say is vital to best help their children and their families.
“I can look back and say there were some crucial moments where we were having some difficulties, and talking it out with somebody set us on a path and made for much better outcomes,” Wilcox said. It’s really that experience that encouraged me to get more involved. Because the organization has been so impactful in helping my family, it’s really important for me to give back and help other families in that same area.”
The organization is expected to know how much money they will receive for the upcoming year on May 17, 2018. We’ll continue to follow this story and provide updates.