Sunday, March 6, 2011

Service cuts in Canada threaten independence of deaf-blind teen

From The Ottawa Citizen in Canada:

TORONTO — The case of a deaf 18-year-old Ottawa girl who is also nearly completely blind was raised in the provincial legislature this week, as a New Democrat MPP pushed the government to commit to funding special services for her and others like her.

Caitlin Ryan (pictured), 18, is concerned about a proposed cut to funding for “interveners” — people who act as a deaf-blind person’s eyes and ears in the world — says her mother Cathy.

When Caitlin graduates from the School for the Deaf in Milton this June, Cathy says she will need roughly 30 hours of intervener services a week.

The intervener will interpret the outside world for Caitlin, signing as Caitlin touches her hands.

Earlier this fall, the Ministry of Community and Social Services posted proposed funding changes that would have resulted in a “devastating” 45-per-cent reduction in service levels, according to DeafBlind Ontario services, an advocacy group.

Cathy thinks the changes would have left her daughter with eight of the 30 hours of intervener services she needs.

Caitlin was born deaf and suffers from a rare genetic disorder known as Usher Syndrome. She expects to be totally blind in less than two years. In the deaf community, people like her are known as “ghosts,” her mother says, because of the profound alienation they encounter.

“Caitlin sometimes gets so depressed,” she says. “She looks at me and says, ‘Mom, it’s never going to be easy for me.’ And I cry because I know it never ever is.”

Nevertheless, Cathy Ryan says her daughter is courageous and determined and plans on living as independent a life as circumstances — and government funding — will allow.

Toward that end, New Democrat MPP Michael Prue called in the legislature for Social Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur to reveal a funding plan for interveners in the legislature.

Prue accused Meilleur, the MPP for Ottawa-Vanier, of “holding the deaf-blind community hostage while she dithers.”

Meilleur later told the Citizen that the proposed changes had been taken off the table and accused certain unnamed advocates of fear mongering.

“To cut the benefit by 50 per cent, it’s a nonsense,” she said. “I’m not going to put my name to cutting benefits by 50 per cent.”

She did not say when a new formula will be issued.

“I feel for the parents. In my ministry I have a lot of these stories. I know there is never an end to the needs, but I’m trying to be fair. I put myself into their shoes and I don’t want that we continue to administer this program as it was, (where) he more you advocate the more money you have.”