By Piper Collins

Last week on Tuesday, a bill was introduced in the Iowa Senate as SSB 3088 to eliminate the Iowa Board of Sign Language Interpreters and Transliterators as well as the requirement for sign language interpreters and transliterators to have licensure for work. Later on the same day, SSB 3088 was referred to the State Government Subcommittee with Senators Jason Schultz (R – District 9), Claire Celsi (D – District 21), and Zach Whiting (R – District 1). The State Government Subcommittee will meet this week on Tuesday at 4:00pm in Room 315 to discuss SSB 3088, and it is open to the public.

Much heated debate has occurred in the local community, and some hearing individuals have proposed moving the authorization of issuing licenses for sign language interpreters and transliterators over to the Division of Deaf Services Commission of Iowa [DSCI], which was re-named as the Office of Deaf Services in 2010 (formally established under the Iowa Department of Human Rights) as a solution. The Office of Deaf Services also houses the current Commission of Deaf Services. It just might work, except for one major problem. “It is pretty much dead,” Gretchen Newman stated. Over the past 15 years, the size, diversity of roles, and overall power within the Office of the Deaf Services has significantly dwindled.

Nobody can seem to pin down exactly how and when this started to happen, which is largely attributed to the fact that much of the dialogue occurred between legislators behind closed doors without any public communication or input. Around 2005/06, there were about five or six employees with the Office of Deaf Services with four being Deaf and fast forward to 2012/13 where the Office of Deaf Services had been reduced to just one-third of an employee with the last full-time Deaf employee being laid off (Newman). Jill Avery, who is hearing herself, now remains as the last employee for the Office of Deaf Services. Something was really wrong, and community members were taking notice.

Iowa’s state government programs and services were completely restructured in 2010 with SF 2088, with the effects taking place over a few years. As a result of SF 2088, the Department of Human Rights assigned Avery to run not one, not two, but three offices: the Office of Deaf Services, the Office of People with Disabilities, and the Office of Native American Affairs. Put in other words, the state of Iowa pays Avery to only focus one-third (1/3) of her time on Deaf issues so that is just 13-14 hours a week. To make matters worse, the Department of Human Rights has been repeatedly hit with budget cuts.

SF 2088 also reduced the Commission of Deaf Services to “nothing more than an advisory group” (Newman). The Commission has had only two or three members for a while, and it was only recently that the Governor’s office approved two or three new additions, but it does not change the fact that the Commission has zero power (Newman).

It is an understatement to say that things do not look good at all, and the community feels that SSB 3088 will only do more harm than good. So, what is the game plan for the Deaf community?

The Board of Regents, which oversees the Iowa School for the Deaf, has filed an opposition to SSB 3088. The Iowa Association of the Deaf [IAD] and the Iowa State Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf [ISRID] are contacting the State Government Subcommittee members individually with the message that the Board of Sign Language Interpreters and Transliterators need to be left alone. A sizable group of attendees will be at Tuesday’s Subcommittee meetings for SSB 3088 as well as SSB 3089 (which focuses on the elimination of licensure requirements for hearing aid specialists).