New state law will provide support for deaf-blind Missourians

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JEFFERSON CITY – Governor Jay Nixon signed a bill Tuesday allocating funds to train support service providers to help thousands of deaf-blind Missourians live independently. 

The new law lets the Missouri Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing give grants to state organizations that provide services catered toward individuals who are both deaf and blind.

The commission’s first goal is to train support service providers.

Information Program Specialist Emily Fry said support service providers often know tactile sign language so they can communicate with deaf-blind people and help them perform daily tasks such as driving and grocery shopping.

“It may be difficult for you to navigate inside the store, know which aisle you’re in, and even a lot of products like cereal are gonna have the same feeling and you really have to be sighted to be able to know which box is which,” Fry said.

Opeoluwa Sotonwa, the executive director of the commission, said the agency has been focusing on this bill for two years.

“It’s such a blessing for us because now we have all these skills from these individuals that they’ll be able to give to the community,” he said.

The commission estimates up to 5,000 people are deaf-blind in Missouri.

Sotonwa said the law will impact them tremendously.

“Often we hear that those who are deaf-blind, they are isolated and they’re stuck at home,” he said. “So this would allow them to be independent, to get a job, and contribute to society.”

The total grants cannot exceed $300,000 annually, and the money will come out of the state budget. The commission can start requesting funds in fiscal year 2017.

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