Valley advocates play role in legislation to help deaf, hard of hearing community

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Chelle Wyatt holds her hearing aid Friday, April 15, 2022, in Salt Lake City. People with hearing loss have adopted technology to navigate the world, especially as hearing aids are expensive and inaccessible to many. (Rick Bowmer/AP Photo)

Rio Grande Valley advocates played a role this regular state legislative session in the passage of a piece of legislation aimed at aiding the deaf and hard of hearing.

The law signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in June allows individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to opt to indicate so on their driver’s licenses or identification cards.

Advocates describe the law as a step toward improving communication between individuals in the deaf community, state officials and law enforcement.

The bill was first introduced by Representative R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, and ultimately sponsored by legislators including Representative Sergio Munoz, Jr., D-Palmview, and Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

A release from McAllen ISD says the legislation started out as a conversation involving the district’s Regional Day School Program for the Deaf Director Liza Lara and Hidalgo County Health and Human Services CEO Eddie Olivarez at the South Texas All Hazards Conference.

“This identification will aid in communication with police officers and first responders in emergency situations,” Lara wrote. “Police officers will know that they are not being ignored when attempting to communicate and that they need to provide an interpreter or use a written form of communication.”

According to the release, Lara provided guidance and clarification on the wording of the bill and testified on it twice in Austin.

At one hearing, the release says, Lara had to interpret for a representative from the Texas School for the Deaf because the state had no official interpreter.

“Access to communication is life changing,” Lara wrote. “There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing a child, who is deaf or hard of hearing, gain full access to our world through clear communication, whether it be via sign language, oral communication, enhancing their residual hearing with the newest technology in audiology, or educating others by spreading deaf awareness.”