© 2024 Wyoming Public Media
800-729-5897 | 307-766-4240
Wyoming Public Media is a service of the University of Wyoming
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Transmission & Streaming Disruptions
Reports on Wyoming State Government Activity

A Senate bill that would provide services to Deaf Wyomingites is working its way to the House

A close up of a person's ear
David Dudley
Wyoming Public Media

There are roughly 40 million people in the United States living with a hearing impairment. The average cost of hearing aids for those with severe impairments is between $4,000-6,000, which makes it difficult for low-income families to get the help they need.

Wyoming is the only state in America that doesn't have a committee to advocate for the Deaf community. When members of that community called upon Laramie Senator Dan Furphy to fix that problem, he listened.

With help from the Governor’s office, Furphy put together a bill to establish a committee for Deaf people in Wyoming, as well as a budget to help those living below the poverty line get hearing aids. The budget would also include funds to hire a dedicated worker at the Wyoming Department of Health – if the bill survives.

Wyoming Public Radio’s State government reporter David Dudley speaks with  Senator Furphy about the bill's beginnings.

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

David Dudley: So we're here today to talk about the hearing aid bill that you sponsored. How did that bill come about?

Dan Furphy: Over a year ago, I was asked to attend a meeting. And I said, "Sure." This was in Laramie. And when I went to the meeting, I was greeted by a group of Deaf and severely hearing impaired people. And they said, "No one will listen to us, and we need help. Would you help us?" And I said, "Well, absolutely, I understand." And they started explaining to me, Wyoming is the only state in our country that doesn't have a Commission for the Deaf. So they said, "Can you help us?" And so I scheduled a meeting with Governor Gordon. And a big group of those people showed up here in Cheyenne, we met with the governor. And he was very sympathetic to them, saying "I understand."

DD: Before you continue, may I ask: When you met with them, what was it that struck you?

DF: They have serious problems in our state. Lack of interpreters, for example. They explained, "We can go to a doctor. But we can't communicate with a doctor what our problem is because most doctors don't have interpreters." And as the one couple explained, "Our daughter was having severe health issues. We go to the doctor's office, and we couldn't explain what the problems were." The governor, as I said, was very sympathetic to this. And he assigned his senior policy adviser Jen Davis to work with me on this issue, and I was extremely impressed. We worked on developing a plan for these people called Hard of Hearing Services in Wyoming. And she put together findings on research etcetera. And it's amazing the number of people we have in this state that are severely hearing impaired or deaf.

DD: And this Senate bill, or file, I should say, this is the first step towards remedying that?

DF: Exactly. This is just the first step. And as I said, we've got this long range plan for helping these people. But we decided that's one thing I could work on is, let's get this bill for hearing impaired people. And that's what this bill does. One of the benefits of what we're doing is we're making people aware of this situation, which is very important.

DD: If I understand correctly, you often can't tell whenever you're out in public if someone has a hearing impairment?

DF: That is true. But the governor has also been good about providing interpreters to help those people. We just had a committee meeting last week and the governor assigned an interpreter. So these Deaf people could attend online. And the interpreter relayed the discussions in the committee meeting to those people. And I understand for a lot of them that would be a seven hour drive to come to a committee meeting, which would be very difficult obviously.

DD: What can we do in the community to help the situation?

DF: In this year's budget, we do have one person allocated in workforce services that will hopefully deal with the Deaf. And this bill that I'm proposing will assign a part-time person in the Department of Health to help these people get qualified for the very expensive hearing aids. You can buy hearing aids over the counter for less than $500. That won't work for these people. They need to be fitted, and they need a physician or audiologist to really help them get the kind of hearing aids that they need. And those are expensive, very expensive, but that's what we've got to get done for them.

DD: What's the greater goal beyond all of this? What do you hope that this will achieve ultimately?

DF: Long term, it would be great to have a Commission for the Deaf so we can have plans. One of my concerns is, and I think we're doing okay, but children - we do have interpreters in the school districts, but some of them have only taken a course or two at our university. They're not truly - well, some are - but there are some that are not truly qualified to deal with the severe problems some of these children have in our state. And so we've got to take care of that too. But long term, a Commission for the Deaf to help these people and provide services statewide, more interpreters and provide the equipment these people need.

David Dudley is an award-winning journalist who has written for The Guardian, The Christian Science Monitor, High Country News, WyoFile, and the Wyoming Truth, among many others. David was a Guggenheim Crime in America Fellow at John Jay College from 2020-2023. During the past 10 years, David has covered city and state government, business, economics and public safety beats for various publications. He lives in Cheyenne with his family.
Related Content