Working Towards Financial Equality for the Deaf Community

This article appears in the National Disability Institute blog. Source: http://realeconomicimpact.tumblr.com/post/160455259085/working-towards-financial-equality-for-the-deaf (Posted May 8, 2017)

April was Financial Literacy Month, and National Disability Institute (NDI) understands that access to financial information is critical in growing a person’s financial capability. Since 2004, NDI has partnered with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the National Association for the Deaf to expand awareness of and access to free tax preparation and financial capability in the Deaf community. As a result of these partnerships, the Boston Deaf Task Force was formed.

Two of the people on that task force recently sat down to discuss why communication accessibility is so important for people in the Deaf community. Jamie Robinson of National Disability Institute spoke with Lori Siedman of DEAF, Inc. to learn from her insights as a DeafBlind advocate. Lori offers Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Late-Deafened and DeafBlind individuals training in independent living skills, including peer counseling, benefits advisement and housing assistance. She also plays a key role in national partnerships that promote financial equality for the Deaf community.

Jamie Robinson (JR): What are your personal experiences as a DeafBlind person accessing financial services?

Lori Siedman (LS): It is not positive. If I go into a bank to talk with someone about a problem with my account or information about a loan, there is often miscommunication. Written financial materials such as housing applications can be complex, especially for Deaf individuals whose primary language is American Sign Language (ASL), not English. Writing back and forth about important financial matters is not sufficient and can lead to feeling like I am missing critical information to make informed decisions. Understanding the big picture is just not enough; Deaf people need all the pieces of information when dealing with their finances. Sign language interpreters are rarely provided in interactions such as applying a loan or buying a new car and as a result, many Deaf people leave these situations feeling overwhelmed and confused.

JR: How can communication access be improved in financial services?

LS: In order for Deaf individuals to have equal access to financial information, qualified sign language interpreters are needed. Banks, housing agencies, car dealerships benefits counselors and tax preparation sites should know how/when to arrange qualified sign language interpreters through their state agency for Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing. Financial information is just as important as medical information, where sign language interpreters are also a must.
Another strategy may be to offer online video resources that show Deaf people signing various financial terms in ASL. ASL videos may describe such financial terms associated with credit reports, loans or housing applications, and banking/savings accounts. Being able to access information in native ASL can help Deaf people feel more confident when they see these words and concepts on paperwork and more connected in their interactions with financial personnel.

JR: The IRS collaborated with the Deaf community to implement this strategy and created an online series of tax terms in ASL that has been well-received by Deaf taxpayers and ASL interpreters. What is your experience as part of the Boston Deaf Task Force in expanding free tax preparation in the Deaf community?

LS: I coordinated ASL tax days at DEAF, Inc. for many years. Joining the Boston Deaf Task Force served as a bridge to reach even more Deaf people because of the partnerships with NDI, the Boston Tax Help Coalition and the Mayor’s Commission on Disability. Our team shares space, tax preparers, cost for sign language interpreters and other resources needed to host multiple ASL tax days in Boston. Equal access to free tax preparation means that when a Deaf person sits down with certified tax preparer and a qualified interpreter, he/she not only fully understands the process of filing taxes, but can ask questions, be curious, comfortable, trusting, and ultimately empowered to learn more about his/her finances. The Task Force is working to ensure that taxes serves as a bridge to other financial education for the Deaf community as well. This is our third year working together, and every year gets better!

JR: Can you share more about your involvement in the Tax Opportunity Network (TON) and how this opportunity has boosted communication access nationally?

LS: I was nominated to be part of the Taxpayer Opportunity Network (TON) last year. TON brings together organizations and individuals who provide tax assistance to low-income communities at no or little cost to taxpayers. The Network shares critical information for effective service delivery, connecting expert practitioners across the country and providing tools and resources. Since I have joined TON, I have had opportunities to travel to Washington, DC and meet with others who work in free tax preparation. We brainstorm how to reach and serve more taxpayers, as well as how to better educate our own communities on the benefits of free tax preparation and valuable tax credits.
Over time, I have shared information with TON members about effective communication access in the services they provide, as well as in their interactions with me as a DeafBlind person. We have all shared perspectives and learned from each other.

JR: What would you say effective communication access to financial services means to a Deaf individual?

LS: When equal communication access is available, it feels like I am an equal human being. I am a peer, as opposed to feeling oppressed or less than. I am confident in understanding what’s best for me and making informed decisions. I feel more confident in my overall financial well-being.

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Lori Siedman is DeafBlind and works at DEAF, Inc, a community-based organization that provides a variety of services to the Deaf community in the Greater Boston area.

Jamie Robinson is the Financial Empowerment and Workforce Manager at National Disability Institute. She holds a master’s degree in Deafness Rehabilitation from New York University and is fluent in American Sign Language (ASL). She resides in the Greater Boston Area, and is actively involved in expanding access and awareness within the d/Deaf, Deaf-Blind and hard-of-hearing community throughout New England.

Deaf-Accessible Tax Services Expands Thanks to Advocacy by DEAF, Inc.’s Lori Siedman

For over 15 years, DEAF, Inc. has offered tax preparation, organizing ASL interpreters and volunteer tax professionals to help people understand their tax-filing responsibilities and file their returns. We partnered with the local Deaf and Hard of Hearing Task Force, led by the National Disability Institute and including the Boston Tax Help Coalition (BTHC) and other local partners, including AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), ASL interpreters, including some CDIs, help bridge communication gaps. Each year, Lori Siedman, Boston Regional Director of Independent Living Services at DEAF, Inc., works tirelessly to organize the tax prep program at DEAF, Inc.

Lori represents DEAF, Inc. at meetings with members of the Boston Mayor’s BTHC and others, increasing visibility and awareness of Deaf people, and our culture and language.

Recently, DEAF, Inc. and BTHC collaborated with Disability Rights Maine’s Meryl Troop, to plan and host a special training for ASL interpreters who are interested in interpreting for tax prep sessions. Over 20 certified interpreters (both Deaf and hearing) learned tax-related terminology, tax concepts, and more. By increasing the number of interpreters trained in tax-related concepts, more Deaf, DeafBlind, Hard of Hearing, and Late-Deafened people can benefit from accessible tax services. For the second year, Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDIs) played an important role in DEAF, Inc.’s Tax Season. Over half of the people who received tax preparation services through DEAF, Inc. benefited from having a CDI involved.

The success of the DEAF, Inc.’s Tax Season preparation services is shown by a steady increase in demand over the last few years. For many years, DEAF, Inc. could offer tax prep meetings only once a week for a month or so at DEAF, Inc. Now, the program schedules appointments 2-3 days a week at DEAF, Inc. and other locations around the greater Boston area, including Dorchester House in Dorchester, and Urban Edge, in Roxbury, to name just two. This year, nearly 90 Deaf, DeafBlind, Hard of Hearing, and Late-Deafened people received ASL-accessible tax services through the tax coalition.

Registration for free tax services begins in January/February and appointment are available on a first come, first serve basis. To be notified when open registration begins for the next tax season, sign up for our email list by contacting Lori Siedman at LSiedman@deafinconline.org.

Can you tell tax season is our favorite season? From L-R (back row): Lori Siedman, Joe Toledo, Sandra Bass, and Nkiki Akwunafor, all IL staff at DEAF, Inc. From L-R (front row): AARP volunteers Chris, Robert and George. Photo credit: Anonymous

At DEAF, Inc. a Deaf woman receives tax preparation help from AARP volunteer George. With a qualified sign language interpreter to facilitate communication, tax preparation is a breeze! Photo credit: Lori Siedman
DEAF, Inc. staff and BTHC members celebrate another successful Tax Day at Urban Edge in Roxbury. From L-R: Mimi Turchinetz, Assistant Deputy Director, Mayor’s Office of Financial Empowerment and Director of BTHC; Leticia Paterlini, Ambassador and BTHC Program Coordinator; Jessica Doonan, Chief of Staff, Mayor’s Commission for Persons with Disabilities; Lori Siedman, DEAF, Inc.'s Boston Regional Director of IL Services, and Nkiki Akunwafor, DEAF, Inc. IL Specialist. Photo credit: Katie Liesener

DEAF, Inc.’s Carol Hilbinger Receives Diane L. Nettles Outstanding Advocate Award

On March 13, 2017, at the annual Deaf and Hard of Hearing Day at Massachusetts State House, Carol Hilbinger, DEAF, Inc.’s Director of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Independent Living Services, was honored as one of two Diane L. Nettles Outstanding Advocates. Carol was presented the award by Statewide Advisory Council (SAC) Chair and DEAF, Inc. Board President, Kelly S. Kim, and SAC Vice Chair Betsy McCarthy. The Outstanding Advocate award is given to individuals in recognition of their commitment and contributions to advancing the lives and community of Deaf people in Massachusetts.

Carol will mark 14 years as the Director of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Independent Living Services (DHILS) this year. She oversees services that have a direct impact on the lives of over 1,500 individuals and families in Eastern MA who receive assistive technology, peer-based support, systems advocacy, and more. Commissioner Reed commended Carol for her work developing strong community partnerships and for being a source of support and guidance to her staff. DEAF, Inc.’s Executive Director Sharon Applegate said, “Carol very much deserves this award. We are all very proud of her!”

DEAF, Inc. congratulates everyone who was honored at the Annual Deaf Day at Massachusetts State House: Kathy Stockow, co-recipient of the Diane L. Nettles Outstanding Advocate award along with Carol Hilbinger; Outstanding Young Advocates, Bryce Callahan and Eglia Guiliani; Outstanding Organizations, Marlborough Police Department and Willie Ross School for the Deaf; Outstanding Service Provider, Jill Grenon; and Outstanding Legislator award recipient, Senator James Welch.

Carol Hilbinger displays her award certificate. MCDHH Commissioner Heidi Reed is on her right, and SAC Chair Kelly Kim and Vice Chair Betsy McCarthy are on her left.Carol Hilbinger, 2017 Diane Nettles L. Outstanding Advocate, proudly displays her award with MCDHH Commissioner Heidi Reed; SAC Chair, Kelly S. Kim, and SAC Vice Chair, Betsy McCarthy. Photo credit: Jonathan O’Dell
Carol Hilbinger addresses the audience after receiving her award. Also onstage are two ASL interpreters and Statewide Advisory Council members Betsy McCarthy and Kelly KimCarol Hilbinger addresses the audience after receiving the Diane L. Nettles Outstanding Advocate award, as SAC Chair, Kelly S. Kim, and Vice Chair, Betsy McCarthy, look on. Photo credit: Matthew Sweet
Group of 16 DEAF, Inc. staff, including Board President Kelly Kim, stand atop the Grand Staircase at the State HouseCarol Hilbinger stands with SAC Chair and DEAF, Inc. Board President, Kelly S. Kim, and DEAF, Inc. staff, including Executive Director, Sharon Applegate, on the Grand Staircase at the State House, March 13, 2017. (Not shown: Elaine Ducharme and Jean Healy) Photo credit: Jonathan O’Dell

DEAF, Inc.’s Project HOPE Changes Name to Deaf Health

January 2017

The Board of Directors and staff of DEAF, Inc. are thrilled to announce that, effective January 1st, 2017, our Project HOPE (Health Outreach, Prevention & Education) will now be called Deaf Health.

The new name reflects our commitment to addressing disparities experienced by Deaf, DeafBlind, Hard of Hearing, and Late-Deafened people in access to health care and health information, and our commitment to increasing awareness of our services among members of the Deaf community and health service providers. Our goals for Deaf Health are still to improve access by providing health information and access care in a way that is free of communication and cultural boundaries. We will increase awareness of health and promote the achievement of health and wellness goals. Our services will continue to support countless Deaf, DeafBlind, Hard of Hearing, and Late-Deafened people and their families through individual and group health education, online health videos, outreach, referrals, support for navigating health care systems, advocacy for communication access, healthcare provider trainings, health fairs, and more.

We are grateful to our community, donors, the health provider community, and other stakeholders for your support and engagement over the last 25 years and in the future. We look forward to building on our current relationships and creating new partnerships.

Find more information about DEAF, Inc.’s Deaf Health program at www.deafinconline.org or contact Jill Hatcher, Director, at jhatcher@deafinconline.org.

View the full announcement here.

Boston Evening Clinic Awards Project HOPE, Supports Deaf Health

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Boston Evening Clinic Foundation. Keepers of the Flame.DEAF, Inc. is thankful for ongoing support from the Boston Evening Clinic Foundation. Through their recent grant, Project HOPE can continue to address health disparities through access to health information and healthcare for Deaf, DeafBlind, Hard of Hearing, and Late-Deafened persons and their families. Funding will support peer-based education, support, and advocacy for increasing health literacy, self-management of health, and healthcare navigation. We appreciate our continued relationship with the Boston Evening Clinic Foundation and our shared mission of making healthcare accessible to all.

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