Brenda Neubeck of White Lake Township was recently reappointed to the Michigan Advisory Council on Deaf and Hard of Hearing for a three-year term ending in January of 2015. Neubeck, a Huron Valley Lakeland High School graduate, is the program director and case manager for Deaf HEAL (Health Education Advocacy Linkage) & Shield, a Deaf Community Advocacy Network (CAN) program that she has worked with for 15 years. The CAN program provides general and medical case management to deaf and hard of hearing individuals in southeast Michigan. She holds bachelor’s degrees in health services administration and sign language studies from the University of Detroit-Mercy and Madonna University, respectively. In addition, Neubeck serves as the state chapter coordinator for the Hearing Loss Association of Michigan, further showcasing her compassion and dedication to the deaf and hard of hearing community and helping it gain full access to communication and resources.
You were recently reappointed to the state’s Advisory Council on Deaf and Hard of Hearing. What does it mean to you to be asked to come back to serve on this council? What do you believe are the biggest issues affecting the deaf community that you hope that the council will address during your new term, and how will you look to contribute to getting the word out?
BN: I had been really quite surprised and pleased to be asked to return to the council and I think it has to do with my unique positions. I work at an agency that provides services for deaf and hard of hearing people and I’m also a person with a hearing loss representing the Hearing Loss Association of Michigan.
We have been working on Public Act 204, which is the Deaf Person’s Interpreters Act. That was recently amended in 2007 and is currently still working on the rules and regulations for that amended law so that it can take effect here in Michigan. What that does is help to protect the rights of deaf people who use sign language interpreters to make sure that the state provides service providers with certified and registered interpreters who have the skills and the knowledge to do translations.
How is that important to me? Because I work with the deaf community and it has been a very big issue to have people who say they are sign language interpreters be in a doctor’s appointment and interpreting for someone. So it’s not a very good situation and we are looking out for our community members and we hope this will be coming into effect, hopefully next year.
SCN: Take us back to when you were first appointed to the council. What did you hope to bring to the table when you started as a council member and what did you accomplish that you were most proud of? What were some of the biggest challenges that you faced when you first were appointed to the council?
BN: We worked very heavily on Public Act 204. That was our main goal for the first two-year term that I served and we’re all very proud of that. I think we were all happy to be a part of that so that it affects change for deaf consumers all over the state of Michigan.
I’ve never had a whole lot of experience doing advocacy work for public policy. So I learned how to contact my state legislators and work with their offices to advocate, for example, on parts of Public Act 204 that we needed approval from certain committees within our state government. So that was very interesting and quite a challenge and it gets easier and easier, so I encourage everyone to learn more about their state government and participate.
Tell our readers how important the state’s Advisory Council on Deaf and Hard of Hearing is to the deaf community in Michigan and how the state government reciprocates with the issues brought forth by the council.
BN: The division on Deaf and Hard of Hearing is under the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. This division is responsible for creating communication access and providing services and programs to state government offices and to employees that have hearing loss, or (are) deaf and blind.
We work with the council to ensure that there is a continuum of communication access, not only for state employees and state offices, but for the residents of Michigan.
We have approximately, right now, 1.4 million people in Michigan who are deaf, hard of hearing, or deaf-blind, so it’s a very large population. We work with the division staff to address current and future needs as they come up and we make sure that the division has the appropriate resources to support any future goals or current goals that they may have. As an advisory council member, we provide assistance by making recommendations and providing key information and feedback that we may get from community members on their program.
Tell us about your role with Deaf HEAL & Shield and what kind of cases you handle on a daily basis? While a student at Madonna, what compelled you to pursue degrees in health services administration and sign language studies?
BN: Deaf HEAL & Shield, HEAL (stands for) Health Education Advocacy Linkage program and that was recently funded by United Way in 2007. It’s a unique program (in which) we provide one-on-one case management services to people who are deaf and hard of hearing or deaf-blind in southeast Michigan.
A good way to tell you what we do is to describe a couple of cases. For example, we might have a deaf person whose first language is sign language and they come to us as an adult and find out that they are diagnosed with cancer but he didn’t have a good understanding of what type of cancer, he didn’t understand what his treatment options were, so we were able to work with him one-on-one, go to their medical appointments, make sure they had a certified interpreter, be there to help explain and make sure the consumer understands what their treatment options are.
So this particular person unfortunately is no longer with us, but we were able to help him and his family from the time of his diagnosis all the way up to the time of his passing. So it was a sad experience, but a good experience and we think that he learned a lot.
Another example would be working with someone who is hard of hearing and maybe lost their hearing suddenly and hearing aids don’t help them, surgical options are not available, so we work with people like this to try to get them access to services.
So can you imagine not having any mode of communication and not being able to hear anything? So we do a lot of writing back and forth and getting them services and try to use technology that might be available and get those purchased for them.
Growing up, how did you develop a passion for public service and activism and what was your ambition? Who would you say has been your inspiration?
BN: It was quite interesting. I was working with Michigan Rehab Services and they suggested that I go learn a language. Because I’m a person with hearing loss, I didn’t think that was a very good choice to go and learn a spoken foreign language, so they recommended sign language to me and I said I’d check it out.
I enrolled at Madonna and fell in love with learning sign language and having an opportunity to meet other people who were deaf and hard of hearing like myself. So that basically changed my career options at that time and I wanted to work in the service field with deaf and hard of hearing people.
Actually, it was kind of interesting. I didn’t have an ambition of any sort. With my hearing loss, I was isolated and mainstreamed in the public schools. I’d never met another person with hearing loss who was either a hearing aid user or learning sign language, so I entered the sign language studies program at Madonna University and I believe that was a turning point at that time.
I learned about Hearing Loss Association of America and became a member at the state level, of which I’m currently now vice president of the Board of Trustees. Having the exposure to sign language studies and learning about hearing loss made me understand that I’m okay as a person with hearing loss. It was at that point that I learned that I can speak out and tell people about hearing loss in general and not to be afraid of your shortcomings and put yourself to the public and (tell) yourself that you can do this.
I have a lot of influential people. Right now, an inspiration is the Division on Deaf and Hard of Hearing director, Sheryl Emery. I really look up to her. She has done a tremendous job since she’s taken on the position.
And another influential person in my life is Liz Kobylak. She is currently our vice president for Hearing Loss Association of Michigan and she and I have worked together since we both joined in the late 1990s. They’ve just been wonderful people and I learned so much from them. I hope that it allows me to continue and provide services for deaf and hard of hearing people in Michigan.
Not many residents may be familiar with deaf people in the personal lives other than seeing them on television. How important do you believe education and outreach about the deaf community is, especially to non-deaf people, and what do you believe are the most effective tools? What do you believe are some misconceptions that people have about the deaf community that you see that need to be addressed?
BN: We are still doing lots of education in regards to the needs for people who are deaf and hard of hearing. I’m thinking you can do a lot of advocacy work. Even 20 years after the Americans With Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, we are still trying to educate various services providers, attorney’s offices, doctor’s offices, that they have to provide effective communication to a person who is deaf and hard of hearing or deaf-blind and allow them to have equal access to the services and grids that they provide to everybody else in their services.
We still struggle with educating people who do not have hearing loss or do not know how to work with a person who is deaf and understand their rights to effective communication and providing them with a sign language interpreter or providing them with other means of effective communication.
So we still do a lot of work with that and one of the most effective tools, mainly, is just getting out there and not pounding the pavement so much as trying to do pre-sensitivity training with community providers and hospitals and different levels of government offices. We do a lot of education and sensitivity training about the needs of deaf and hard of hearing people in Michigan.
There are lots of misconceptions out there and the biggest one that comes to my mind is that most people think that deaf and hard of hearing are excellent lip readers or speech readers and that is totally incorrect. Only about 30 percent of our spoken language can be seen on our lips, so there are lots of words that look the same. There’s too many sounds that look the same and people automatically assume that we are good lip readers.
And along with that, a lot of deaf people back in the day learned to speak, so a lot of people assume that because a person can speak, and even though we may tell them our ears don’t work, they don’t make that connection, they automatically think because someone can speak, that they can hear something.
And we still are dealing with people having the misconception that deaf and hard of hearing people or even deaf-blind people have below average intelligence and we work very hard to try and dispel that myth. There are many people with hearing loss who have degrees. We have doctors, we have airline pilots, we have attorneys. Deaf people and hard of hearing people can do anything they want and learn anything they want — they just can’t hear.
What are your ultimate hopes for the future of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
BN: We would really like to see that we wouldn’t have to advocate anymore to provide effective communication for deaf and hard of hearing people, and hopefully technology is catching up. We do have some technological advances that are helping the deaf and hard of hearing communities and we hope that will continue to make life a lot easier and allow everyone to have equal access.
I’ve been here at Deaf CAN 16 years. I hope to still see myself here in 10 years continuing our work. I love what I do. I enjoy going out and teaching people about sensitivity training and providing advocacy services and I hope to continue to do that.