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New MCDHH commissioner interacts with Holyoke DHILS community at ice cream social

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

They wait for the presentation to begin. The room is relatively quiet, but conversations are plentiful. Hand gestures are boisterous and facial expressions are animated. Nearly 20 members from the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Independent Living Services community – ranging in age from young adults to seniors – came to 302 High St. in Holyoke on May 30 to meet the new Massachusetts Commission of Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Commissioner Stephen A. Florio. He took the post in February.

Massachusetts Commission of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commissioner Stephen A. Florio presents a PowerPoint presentation to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Independent Living Services community May 30 in Holyoke.

During the two-hour ice cream social, the born-deaf commissioner presented a half-hour PowerPoint presentation about his background and role within MCDHH. The commission, he said through an American Sign Language, or ASL, interpreter, falls under the Executive Office of Health and Human Services managed by Secretary Marylou Sudders. MCDHH is one of 13 agencies in this grouping. Others include the Department of Developmental Services, Department of Children and Families, and Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission.

“There are millions and millions of dollars that go into these different agencies and we work together to help serve the people within Massachusetts,” Commissioner Florio said. “Some of these other organizations don’t know about deaf people and they rely on me to educate them. It’s not always perfect – some is good, some takes some work – and hopefully it’s continuing to improve. That’s why I’m here, to help be a liaison and be a connection between these different state agencies and the deaf community.”

Commissioner Florio concluded his presentation by asking the audience if they had any questions. They did. Soon, discussions began with multiple people signing so everyone could see what was being said and an interpreter voicing the comments.

The audience relayed disappointment in police officers who disregard deaf people not understanding what is being vocalized and a concern for a lack of Spanish-speaking interpreters. Another point made was time limits on interpreters’ commitments. The commission provides interpreters specially for funerals and weddings, but it’s limited to a two-hour allotment, which may not be enough time for a wedding that is typically followed by a reception.

The commissioner said these points are all worth further exploration and would be mentioned to his staff to improve the system. He then thanked everyone for their thoughts and their attendance.

“The event went well,” said Nicole Nelson, program director for the Holyoke Services for Hearing Individuals and Holyoke and Pittsfield Services for Deaf Individuals. “We really appreciate the commissioner coming out to show support and speak with the deaf community. We’re excited to work with him in the future.”

To learn more about DHILS, email DHILS@viability.org