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State’s sign language interpreters protest in Hartford after entire staff laid off

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HARTFORD--Dozens of people turned out for a protest in Hartford on Wednesday afternoon that was held in response to a new round of layoffs that impacts state sign language interpreters.

So far, 25 people have been laid off from the Deaf & Hard of Hearing Interpreting Unit within the Department of Rehabilitation Services, but more cuts are expected. The union says the entire nearly 40 person unit will be laid off in the coming weeks.

ada protestCuts are part of a restructuring of the state budget to reduce debt. According to Gov. Dan Malloy's office, the mostly part-time employees will continue to provide services to the state, except through a private outside provider instead of being directly employed by the state.

"We expect little, if any change, in services for several reasons while we achieve cost savings for the state," a statement from Malloy's office said.

Currently, the state pays approximately $100 per hour for interpreter service, but only charges users $55 per hour. So the state covers the remaining $45. If the state hires interpreters through an outside agency, the full cost per hour for interpreter services would be reduced to $60. This helps save the state at least $30 per hour "without changing the services available."

The state workers travel across the state to be the sign language interpreter for those in need.

"We are the voice for this community, they speak through us," laid off interpreter Tammy Batch said. "I just feel like the rugs been ripped out from underneath me and I'm gonna have to figure out how to get myself back up."

Batch said she's worked as an interpreter for the deaf at some of the governor's press conferences. She also spoke about the importance of being an interpreter inside a court room.

"I know me being there allows the 6th Amendment to happen, allows the 14th Amendment to happen," she said. "Without us, how can somebody actually participate in their defense or have due process."

The workers and their union, Council 4 AFSCME, joined together for the Hartford press conference in front of the DoRS building, located at 55 Farmington Ave.

Members of the Deaf community took part in the protest as well.

"It means I will have no access to communication with the hearing world like all of you, very sad, very upsetting for us," Luisa Soboleski expressed through sign language. "The whole deaf community, its not right, we're back to square one, back in the old days we're gonna have to write with paper back and forth to communicate with doctors, hospitals, police officers."

According to Batch, her last day of work is July 15. The workers were given two weeks notice.

Stay tuned with FOX 61 for developments on state layoffs budget issues.