Protest held after sign language interpreters laid off during budget cuts

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HARTFORD--Dozens came out on Tuesday to protest on the steps of Connecticut's Capitol in response to state cuts to vital services.

The deaf and those hard of hearing were pushing back after the state's interpreting unit in the Department of Rehabilitation Services was laid off.

"The deaf community, including myself, are very angry, because we were not notified,” said Luisa Soboleski, the chairperson of the Department of Rehabilitation Services Interpreting Unit Advisory Board.

Last Friday the entire interpreter unit within the DRS had its last day, a cut ordered by the governor's office two weeks earlier in light of Connecticut's fiscal crisis.

The unit had 35 language interpreters.

Those who are deaf say these interpreters are a lifeline of communication helping them converse, for example, at the doctor’s office.

"We were just dumped,” Soboleski told the rally. “The deaf and hard of hearing community were left to fend for themselves, left in the dark. We feel like we've gone back in time."

She says there was just a two-week warning, and no plan for a transition.

We the Deaf People founder and president Matthew Moore was also frustrated. In a statement, he said, "This is a disturbing development for Deaf people, not only in Connecticut, but throughout the nation. The Americans with Disabilities Act supposedly guarantees that our communication rights be respected. So imagine our feelings of outrage and betrayal when essential services to the Deaf community are cut by the very government that is suppose to support our rights! We are beyond tired and beyond infuriated when decisions directly affecting Deaf people’s quality of life are made without their input. Is Governor Malloy perhaps unfamiliar with the meaning of the slogan ‘Nothing about us without us?'"

Connecticut state Rep. Catherine Abercrombie pointed the finger at Governor Dan Malloy's office.

"We as a legislature are as frustrated with this administration as you are," said Abercrombie.

She also called for changes to the amount of power the executive branch holds.

Right after the rally, a group hand delivered a petition with 1,300 signatures to the governor’s office calling for a restoration of services.

Malloy’s office later responded with a statement:

The state must adjust to a new economic reality and we must align our spending and revenue – this is one way to achieve those goals. There is expected to be little, if any change in services while we achieve significant cost savings for the state. Under this new arrangement, the state will utilize private interpreting services that could save the state about $30 per hour in total cost without changing the services available.