Our group of DeafBlind individuals and hearing/sighted allies are advocating for crucial independent living services, in the form of Support Service Providers (SSPs), also known as CoNavigators (CNs). SSPs provide vital communication and environmental access for the DeafBlind, so that they are able to autonomously manage daily activities, and meaningfully engage in the workplace and community at large.
Many Texans who are DeafBlind strive for full and productive lives, in the face of many barriers. They need access to key activities that support living independently and making autonomous decisions. These self-supporting individuals do not need a guardian, and therefore are not covered by existing services, such as interveners, funded through the Medicaid DeafBlind Waiver Program.
A proven method for alleviating this serious access issue has been to provide funding for SSP training and services. These practitioners are specially trained to provide access to visual and auditory environmental information, which allows the individual who is DeafBlind to, for example, shop for groceries, conduct financial transactions, access doctors and pharmacies, and attend community events.
“If the state overlooks our access and treats us like we are invalids, then you invalidate our existence”
(soft piano melody)
Young adult DeafBlind twin females, Crystal and Danielle Morales, sit in their wheelchairs slightly facing each other in a comfortable living room space.
Both have light skin and above-the-ear dark brown hair. Crystal wears a solid light-blue t-shirt, shaded glasses low on her nose, and multiple necklace chains, silver rings and bracelets. Danielle wears a black t-shirt with the words PINK FLOYD in reflective multicolor, clear glasses low on her nose, a nose ring, dangling earrings, many colorful rings and thick wrist cuff bracelets. Her face is made up and her lipstick matches her burgundy nail polish.
Danielle signs: “When you go to a buffet, you go for the many food options available to you.”
Cut to a parking lot. Allen Sugar, a tall, elderly DeafBlind man in gray sweats is led to a curb by a red-haired female SSP wearing a black t-shirt printed: DeafBlind Camp of Texas with an armadillo logo on the back. They step up the curb, and open the door to a restaurant together.
Cut back to Crystal and Danielle in their linvingroom.
Crystal signs: “It’s like being a kid in a candy store, but you’re an Adult, and it’s your dinner.”
Inside the busy restaurant, the SSP signs into Allen’s left hand: “boiled collards, sweet potatoes…” Allen wears a gray newsboy cap and thick black shades. He nods as she lists the food options.
Danielle: “DeafBlind people often miss out on that experience, because it’s assumed that we can’t do things for ourselves. There’s a lot of focus on what we CAN’T see, or CAN’T hear. But many of us have working legs, arms, and hands…”
At a drink station, Allen selects his cup from stacks on a counter. He pours his own drink from the fountain. The SSP stands by with a hand on his shoulderblade, keeping him informed of her location.
Crystal: “We have fully-functioning brains that crave opportunities to exercise… We crave autonomy, just like everyone else.”
Allen’s SSP stops at a large round table, where his wife asks if he’d like to sit.
Danielle: “Imagine if everyone always assumed you’d be perfectly happy going straight to the table, sitting there, waiting, while someone else picks out your food for you, brings your food to you, and then leads you straight back home.”
Allen stands at the buffet, asking his SSP: “Do they have BBQ Chicken?” Then: “What about baked potato?” Allen tracks the SSPs wrist with his left hand as she tongs the BBQ chicken and baked potato onto his plate.
Crystal: “That leaves out so much of the experience the restaurant environment provides. What would be the point of ever leaving the house?”
In a clip of Allen entering the building, his wife stands in the distance, looking on. On his back, the SSP pinpoints the woman’s location in relation to Allen’s, then maps his pathway to reach her. SSP: “Your wife is waiting for you just ahead, to the left.”
(the now triumphant piano melody continues)
Back to the buffet, Allen is searching for meat options. SSP: “Located the BBQ Chicken. There is also pork available… and some fried chicken at the end. Would you prefer either of those?”
At the fountain machine, Allen observes his drink options. SSP: “Next is Lemonade, next is a strawberry soda…”
Danielle: “This is the limitation that many DeafBlind citizens of Texas are suffering.”
At the buffet, Allen holds his tray with one hand and communicates with the other. SSP: “Do you prefer to scoop it yourself, or should I?” Allen: “No, you go ahead. It’s messy.” Allen tracks the SSP’s arm as she scoops wet cooked collards from a vat into a bowl on his tray.
Danielle: “…a largely passive existence, without Support Services.”
(piano music calms slightly)
Crystal: “If the State overlooks our access, and treats us like we’re invalid, then you invalidate our existence.”
Scenes of Allen choosing a side of green beans, navigating his tray securely through a crowd of oncoming patrons by the guidance of an SSP.
Danielle: “DeafBlind Texans deserve better, and we’re counting on you to represent us accordingly.”
Flashes of light cross the screen and the words, “THANK YOU!” appear in white. Danielle and Crystal sign, “Thank you,” solemnly. Their image zooms then fades.
White text on a black background: Support the TEXAS SSP BILL. Subtext: Improve the lives of DeafBlind Citizens.
Credits: Presented by FeelTHAT! Productions. Directed by Samantha Ferrell. Filmed and Edited by Dylan J. Lutes. Voiceover by Samantha Ferrell and Ashley Joosepsen. Music by Ben Sound.
True tidbits from DeafBlind individuals