Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services
When Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services was first established in 1996, it initially found its home with the Life Guidance Services, then with the Grand Rapids Center for Independent Living (now DAKC). In its first year, the agency filled 140 interpreter assignments and was operated by one staff member. Today, one full-time staff member out of two staff, manage the interpreter services, filling over 3,000 interpreter assignments annually.
This is only possible for two reasons: D&HHS provides local businesses, health care providers and other entities with qualified, certified interpreters from our comprehensive roster. Secondly, the agency continues to advocate for and educate the public on the importance of equal communication access in all aspects of one’s life. Every life matters. A Deaf or hard-of-hearing person has the right to the opportunity to education, quality health care, gainful employment, access to public venues and the pursuit of happiness. This cannot be accomplished without equal communication access and cultural under-standing, which D&HHS helps to facilitate.
In 2002, members of the Deaf and hard of hearing communities decided that it was time for D&HHS to become its own independent nonprofit and live up to its promise of becoming a comprehensive, full-service agency. In September 2002, the IRS formally approved D&HHS as a 501(c)3 organization. Today, D&HHS operates, in addition to our interpreter services, five new programs: community education, advocacy, an equipment assistance and distribution program, an educational and resources support program for Deaf and hard of hearing children, and a cultural awareness and sensitivity training program.
Established in 2006, our Hearing Assistive Technology (HAT) program works with residents of Western Michigan, who have a hearing loss. With a full-time specialist, D&HHS helps individuals with hearing aids and other assistive devices. The HAT specialist also provide our consumers with knowledge and resources to positively adjust to their life change with the goal of allowing them to remain safe and inde-pendent in their home. Our specialist is available for customized, onsite presentations to organizations, businesses and other entities. In 2006, HAT served 25 individuals. Today, it serves over 160 individuals annually.
We also provide services for Deaf and hard of hearing children (aged 3-18) and their families. Established in 2009, the Youth program focuses on education and inclusion, practicing American Sign Language (ASL), highlighting new vocabulary, and providing social activities and interactions. We work with our local community partners including police and fire safety programs, 4H clubs with MSU Extension Services, schools such as Northview Public Schools. Our goal is to assist them in learning how to appropriately interact with different individuals and places, so that they can become confident and independent. Additionally, we host an annual summer day KidSigns "Kamp" and TeenSigns Camp where they go on field trips, enjoy arts and crafts, and learn from public safety officials and others, in addition to working on their behavioral skills, and American Sign Language skills (which will then improve their English skills). Back in 2009, the Youth program served 5 children and their families. Today, it has grown to serve over 50 deaf and hard of hearing children and their families.
In 2014, D&HHS established the Cultural Awareness & Sensitivity Training program. The trainers have a total of over 25 years experience in sensitivity training, and they work with the public, businesses and other entities to enhance their understanding of how to better serve their Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees, customers and/or clients. The presentations are customized and onsite.
Today, D&HHS has now truly become what it was originally envisioned as: a comprehensive, full-service agency serving the needs of the Deaf and hard of hearing communities. To this day, D&HHS remains the sole agency in West Michigan that provides comprehensive services. Yet, there remains much work to be done. We’re always seeking volunteers for our board of directors, board committees, KidSigns, and support for our events. For giving opportunities, a flexible package of corporate sponsorship benefits is available, and we accept donations for all of our programs and general fund. For further details on volunteer and giving opportunities, please contact us.