The deaf community is inconsolable about Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s decision to eliminate the 40-person Department of Rehabilitation Services interpretation unit.
At a rally outside the state Capitol Tuesday they said the decision and the transition was poorly thought out and interferes with their civil rights.
Luisa Soboleski, the chairperson of the state agency’s advisory committee, said there was no advance warning of the decision to eliminate the unit and there was no transition plan.
Soboleski said they were told to call 211 to find an interpreter, but 211 “didn’t know what was going on.”
Sandra Inzinga, president of the Connecticut Association of the Deaf, said their rights are being denied if they’re not able to get interpreters.
Inzinga said that the only transition plan the state had was calling 211. “Nothing about services, nothing about other agencies, just ‘sorry, call 211.’”
She said she tested the 211 system and was on hold for 10-minutes before being able to talk to someone who “knew nothing.” She said the only recommendation they had was a private provider in Bridgeport, “but what about the rest of the state?”
“There was no plan for a transition,” Soboleski said. “We were just dumped.”
The Connecticut Association of the Deaf has a link on their website with a form they are using to help collect data about the denial of interpreter services. The form will be submitted to the Office of Protection and Advocacy who will be tracking the denial of services for potential legal action.
“The governor can’t just take away these services,” Inzinga said.
Soboleski said taking away interpreter services is like taking away all the ramps in the state for people with wheelchairs.
“You have to be deaf to truly understand,” Soboleski said.
Chris McClure, a spokesman for Malloy, said the decision to eliminate the unit was based on the “new economic reality.” He said there “is expected to be little, if any change in services while we achieve significant cost savings for the state.”
The state has contracted with private interpreting service providers. McClure said it will save the state about $30 per hour.
Former state interpreters dispute the number.
James Cusack, one of the highest paid interpreters in the unit, said he was making $37.17 an hour and even with fringe benefits it wouldn’t be more than $75 an hour.
In 2015, the unit was given 12.382 assignments and it was reimbursed for 46,895 hours. Cusack said he doesn’t believe the state will actually save money in the end by contracting out the services. He said he thought the state actually made money because it charged for the services provided by the interpreters.
The Malloy administration said it costs the state about $100-per-hour, including fringe benefits, to provide the services, at the same time as it’s only charging $55-an-hour to hire the interpreters.
Reps. Cathy Abercrombie, D-Meriden, and Gary Byron, R-Newington, said they are troubled by the decision of the Malloy administration to eliminate the services.
Abercrombie agreed with Cusack that the state would not save money through contracting, and said that she asked the state commissioner to produce data indicating it would. “I said ‘show me.’ Show me the data that supports it because they don’t have it,” she said.
She struggled to make sense of the decision.
“We made the hard cuts,” Abercrombie said. “And then we get out of session and all of a sudden the executive branch decides to make more cuts at the expense of people we represent.”
She said the Malloy administration had no conversations with the legislative branch before making the decision to eliminate the service.
It’s time to “change the amount of power” held by the executive branch, Abercrombie added.
Byron said very few lawmakers knew about the administration’s decision to eliminate the unit and urged those in the deaf community to contact their lawmakers.
Dylan Alers, 12, and his mother, Liza Alers, helped collect more than 1,300 signatures on a petition they delivered to Malloy’s office after Tuesday’s rally.
Dylan Alers said the quality of the interpreters he got from the state were much better than those he received from private vendors. He said the quality of the interpreters matters to him because he wants to be a lawyer.
The quality of services presented a life-or-death situation for his mother, Liza Alers, who is also deaf. When Liza presented at the emergency room in excruciating pain, the interpreter they called was unable to properly convey that pain to the doctor and was unable to convey what the doctor was saying back to her.
She said it wasn’t until she woke up after surgery that she discovered they removed her appendix.
Max Moran contributed to this report.