How The Caretaker Economy Should Include Deaf & Hard of Hearing Children

Two young parents play with their toddler with one blowing bubbles and the other holding the child.

Include Families of Children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing In the Caretaker Economy

The incoming Biden-Harris administration is already hard at work building out the ideas and legislative initiatives that they promised to bring to the table.

One of those is a sweeping $775 Billion plan to rebuild what they call the “caretaker economy” and it represents a major breakthrough in how societal support legislation is thought of. In the United States our support systems are badly fractured and siloed in many ways. This bill readjusts our thinking about caretakers and approaches it from a full-spectrum perspective.

Families are often responsible for their family members on both sides of the age-spectrum and this bill takes that into consideration with significant provisions for both parent-care and child-care.

It also includes provisions for pre-school and toddler-care, which is where I want to contribute something that I hope the Biden-Harris administration and their advisors take into consideration.

As a long-time advisor and advocate for families with children who are deaf or hard of hearing, one of the most important things I explain is that they have to make the language of their home as accessible as possible. That’s often tricky because it requires a communicative paradigm that they are more than likely not familiar with.

In order to make themselves, their homes, and their extended families accessible in order to empower learning, both direct and incidental, parents often need to learn to sign or cue and determine what level of hearing aids are appropriate for their children. That costs money and time and it doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

What support services families have access to is also fractured and siloed based on geography and educational philosophy. I hope the Biden-Harris administration will take that into consideration and include resources for parents and caregivers of children who are deaf or hard of hearing by ensuring that they have funding, tax-rebates, and employment protections for parents who need to take the time to learn to sign or to cue for their children.

Hearing aid costs are also not limited to late deafened adults so if a holistic approach is preferred, as expressed by Ai-jen Poo, executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, that should include a birth to graduation language accessibility strategy for children who are deaf, hard of hearing, or deaf-blind.

As part of the Early Hearing Detection and Identification (EHDI) network, the National Cued Speech Association (NCSA) recently submitted a series of recommendations for the Maternal Child Health Bureau’s new Blueprint for Change document. Many of these recommendations are completely relevant across the entire caretaker economy.

All children and their caretakers need to have access to the language and communication development that is appropriate to their needs, accessible, in the modality of their choosing, and without discrimination.

Health equity is increasingly more significant in terms of public policy and we urge policy makers and those advocating for more equitable health and education policy to include access to language and communications modality in their list of equities to consider.

A focus on family/child well being and quality of life acknowledges the importance of achieving dignity, autonomy, independence, language access, and the need for families to be active participants and drivers of decisions affecting them and their children.

Many articles about how children who are deaf or hard of hearing function within hearing families rightly focus on “dinner-table syndrome.” This is a microcosm of what it means for families to be active participants and drivers of decisions affecting them and their children. Their goal should be focused on how to achieve inclusion within their own homes and resolve in-home challenges such as ensuring that their children are included in the day-to-day conversations and therefore, have access to incidental learning opportunities and emotional support.

Federal grants are available for training, mentoring, and support for families, professionals, and providers on communication modalities for children with communication disorders.

We propose that States and the Federal Government take new steps to provide resources to families with newly diagnosed deaf, hard of hearing, or deaf-blind children. This goes beyond entrusting Early Intervention to pre-existing infrastructure and gets into putting the power to make language accessible as quickly, effectively, and deeply as possible within the frameworks of their own homes and family units. Early Intervention is generally only as effective as a family’s commitment to participating in that process and one of the greatest hurdles to that commitment is time and money.

That’s a hurdle we can help them overcome. Lowering that hurdle has extraordinarily positive second and third order effects.

Living a double life as a Community Manager for Fresh Content Society and Government Liaison for the National Cued Speech Association.