Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

An Evaluation of an Area-Wide Message Relay Program: National Implications for Telephone System Access

Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

An Evaluation of an Area-Wide Message Relay Program: National Implications for Telephone System Access

Article excerpt

The needs of an increasingly diverse group of deaf clients present a considerable challenge to rehabilitation professionals. Community-based service centers can widen the range of programs for deaf persons. However, despite their potential as rehabilitation resources, little is known about the characteristics of these programs. This paper reports the results of a study of a community-based service center for deaf people in a mid-Atlantic city. Discussion focuses on findings that can assist rehabilitation planners and counselors develop these programs.

Because of their disability, deaf people experience economic and social barriers as they interact in a hearing society (Pimental, 1980). A deaf person is functionally defined as someone whose hearing is so seriously impaired that he or she cannot understand speech even with a hearing aid (Shein and Delk, 1974). For example, although the capacity to use a telephone is a convenience most people take for granted, deaf people cannot use a standard telephone. Further, their inability to hear often results in problems learning English, a decreased potential for independent living, and underemployment (Torkelson and Lynch, 1979).

A principal focus of the rehabilitation process has been to enable deaf people to enter or return to competitive employment (Mowry, 1987; Watson, 1985). This typically has involved helping them develop job-seeking skills, providing them with supportive services (e.g., interpreters), training them in the use of assistive devices (e.g., equipment to compensate for their hearing loss), and educating employers and co-workers about deafness.

In addition to their traditional mission of preparing clients for competitive employment, vocational rehabilitation counselors have placed a greater emphasis on helping clients develop independent living skills (Lorenz, 1982). Independent living services include teaching personal grooming, managing a budget and banking, using public transportation, food shopping and preparation, clothing care, and driver's education. In contrast to traditional vocational rehabilitation services, independent living programs are more likely to be appropriate for low-achieving deaf clients (i.e., those who function at the lower end of the spectrum of vocational and social skills). Although the supply of rehabilitation counselors with the ability to communicate in sign language has grown, the increased number and diversity of deaf clients seeking assistance often has made it difficult to locate appropriate and accessible programs for them (Danek, 1986).

One approach to widening the range of services for deaf persons is a community-based service center. These centers function as mechanisms for increasing the accessibility and coordination of existing programs. An accessible and coordinated system can allow a variety of organizations to assist deaf persons. However, despite their potential as rehabilitation resources, little is known about the characteristics of these programs. Klinefelter (1986) conducted a rare national survey of community-based service centers for deaf people. He reported that there are 200 of these centers, which offer services such as advocacy, training, information and referral, counseling, and distributing assistive devices (e.g., visual smoke alarms). Although Klinefelter (1986) provided a useful general overview of these programs, rehabilitation planners and counselors who are considering establishing them in their communities will require more detailed information. This paper reports the results of a study of one community-based service center for deaf people located in a mid-Atlantic city. Discussion focuses on findings that can assist rehabilitation professionals develop these programs.

Program Description

Since November 1982, this community-based service center had served a city and three contiguous counties. This service area had a population of approximately 500 thousand people. …

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