Newborns, infants and people with deafness, hearing loss or speech disabilities will benefit from two bills Governor Jack Markell signed into law today that focus on deaf hearing services.
"Both of these bills address the overall quality of life for many in Delaware," said Governor Markell "For our youngest population, we are helping to strengthen Delaware's hearing screening law and early intervention services. For those who currently experience deafness, hearing loss or speech disabilities, we are greatly improving their ability to communicate easily and effectively with others. Though the changes are small, the impact is extraordinarily significant."
According to the Center for Disease Control, one to three children per 1,000 are born with hearing loss in the United States each year. Additionally, hearing loss can vary greatly among children and can be caused by many things. House Bill 384, sponsored by Rep. Quinn Johnson, updates the Universal Newborn and Infant Hearing Screening Act to require tracking and intervention protocol to address this critical issue. Currently, all hospitals are performing hearing screenings on all infants just after birth. Under the new law, hospitals and audiologists are required to report follow-up hearing evaluations of infants to the Division of Public Health within 10 days of the evaluation. Families must receive unbiased information on future pathways for their children. The law also formalizes the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Advisory Board, which has been done in other states across the country.
Rep. Johnson, D-Middletown, noted that HB 384 also helps the state adhere to federal standards and helps allow Delaware to continue to receive federal funding that is provided to run the newborn hearing screening process. Only federal money is received and used for the program.
"As a father of a deaf child who did not have the new born screening provided at the time he was born, it means a lot to be able to help all future families of deaf and hard of hearing children start down the path of information gathering and education at a much earlier time than my family was able to do," Rep. Johnson said.
Senate Bill 248, sponsored by Senator Karen Peterson provides persons who have deafness, hearing loss, or speech disabilities with telecommunications service for analog communications devices. According to the Center for Hearing and Communication, approximately 12% of the U.S. population or 38 million Americans have a significant hearing loss, with one out of three people over age 65 having some degree of hearing loss. Delaware is the only State that does not provide the telecommunications service for analog communications devices. The Bill also creates a funding mechanism for Relay Service for persons who have deafness, hearing loss, or speech disabilities.
"This bill addresses a long-neglected need among Delawareans who are deaf, hearing impaired, or speech impaired," said Sen. Peterson, D-Stanton. "It provides real-time captioned telephone services for those who do not have internet access. For hundreds of Delawareans, it will truly be a lifeline."