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Not Without Us

Census identifies needs, barriers of deaf, deafblind, hard of hearing community

Twelve percent of Michiganders living in the Upper Peninsula are members of the deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing communities, according to the Not Without Us census report. (Photo from MetroCreative)

By TRINITY CAREY

Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — Twelve percent of Michiganders living in the Upper Peninsula are members of the deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing community, according to the Not Without Us census report.

The census and needs assessment comes from the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and is part of an effort to understand the experiences, needs and preferences of the deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing community in Michigan, the Not Without Us website states.

Not Without Us is an initiative led by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, Division on Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing, which aims to advocate for equivalent access and increase knowledge of the needs and awareness of the DDBHH community, said Annie Urasky, director of the division.

The last time such data was collected from the community was almost 30 years ago and the census found that numbers have almost doubled since then.

About 7.4% of Michigan residents identify as part of this community, with 632,825 identifying as hard of hearing, 45,853 as deaf and 10,165 as deafblind.

“That means our community has been undercounted and overlooked and underrepresented with the data,” Urasky said.

The census asked members of the community about their experiences when dealing with health care, employment, education, transportation, housing and what barriers they faced.

Communication access was often a barrier, with 68% of respondents saying they did not have access to some type of communication assistance such as an interpreter or captioning.

Income disparity was also a notable factor collected from the study. The average Michigan resident with a bachelor’s degree earns between $55,000 and $63,000, but DDBHH Michigan residents are earning less than that, Urasky said.

“Is this community actually having the opportunity to get jobs with the education and background and experience they have? It’s causing a disconnect with their ability to be able to find a well paid job,” she said.

Income disparity is also greater for households in the Upper Peninsula. Sixty-two percent of DDBHH individuals in the U.P. had household incomes less than $50,000. U.P. respondents were also older, with an average age of 53, and more likely to be hard of hearing. Sixty-nine percent of U.P. respondents are hard of hearing, 27% are deaf and 4% identified as other. U.P. respondents also did not report using interpreters.

“You have a hearing person, they’re not aware of how to navigate the system like we do, so when they look at the data and they see the prevalent barriers that we have we can help use that in a way to guide discussion on how we can make this state inclusive for everyone,” Urasky said.

Going forward, the data collected from the census will be used to address inadequacies throughout the state and to remove the barriers faced by individuals of the DDBHH community, she said.

“We want to use the data in two ways: talking with the decision makers and policy makers, the ones who have the ability to make decisions about how they fund programs and services and how they make decisions on how the community can use the services,” Urasky said. “We want to connect with them and say, ‘Hey, we have data to show.’ Some of the gaps we want to suggest in a way so they can make their programs more inclusive, making sure it’s open to all the needs of our community.”

The data will also be used to connect “with community members and tell them we’ve identified gaps and we’ve identified your feedback,” Urasky said. “We want to connect with you and maybe do some deeper analysis on how we can help serve you better, how we can improve, how we can have equal access for you.”

She hopes the data will create conversation among legislators, government officials and hearing individuals that promotes equal access.

“It’s all about building relationships and continuing the conversation in a way that drives change for our community.” Urasky said.

To view the census, visit the survey results on notwithoutusmich.org.

Trinity Carey can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is tcarey@miningjournal.net.