NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Other than the falling of a Jenga tower or the roll of a die to play Chutes & Ladders, it’s all quiet in a room at Bridges for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
Yet, it’s also never been louder for Amy Ferrell and her kids.
“Charlee was the first deaf person that I ever met,” she said.
Ferrell was shocked when she found out her daughter, Charlee, was deaf. Charlee’s older brother, Logan, is not.
“I want Charlee to have just as much opportunity in life as my hearing son has,” Amy Ferrell said.
Until 2019, that equity was hard to come by, but then, the Deaf Mentor & Parent Advisor Program started.
“A lot of these parents that have never been around anybody that is deaf, they don’t know how to communicate with their child,” Sen. Becky Duncan Massey (R-Knoxville) said.
Massey, along with Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis), sponsored the original legislation to help create the program back in 2019.
“It’s been a lifeline for us,” Amy Ferrell said.
It pairs a deaf child together with a deaf mentor and a parent advisor to help bridge that communication gap while also providing leadership for the children to follow. Once a week, the mentor and advisor spend time with the child and their family to help with education, communication and support.
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“Without that deaf mentor program, we were on an island trying to get our own support, which really, new to the disability world, is not something we wanted,” Amy Ferrell said.
Having a deaf family member opens a whole new world of how to live. Parents have to learn how to wake their child without an alarm clock, alert them when there’s an emergency, how to ask for an interpreter, go to the doctor with an interpreter – the list goes on.
“They’re learning language through you, they’re learning how to be their own advocate through you,” Amy Ferrell said. “Without that program, there’s not really anything in the state, state-funded, that provides support and access like that.”
The program doesn’t only help the child but also the rest of the family. In fact, in the Ferrell household, English isn’t even the primary language.
“What’s been so exciting is that our whole family has learned to sign,” Amy Ferrell said. “My husband, my hearing son who’s six, our primary language in the house is ASL (American Sign Language).”
There’s just been one problem with it – it’s funded on a non-recurring basis, which means every year, the affected families have to go to the legislature and plead to continue the funding.
But this year, Massey filed SB0004 to potentially make that funding permanent.
“We hope to just pass it once and for all, have it in recurring funding because it does really make a huge impact on these families,” she said.
If you’d told Amy Ferrell two years ago that this program would change her life, she wouldn’t have believed you.
“I couldn’t picture it because I was knee-deep in grief and emotions and just, ‘what am I going to do for my child?’” she said. “Now, looking back, it’s beautiful, it’s wonderful. I feel confident in our family environment that we’re all connected stronger than we’ve ever been before.”
It’s an attitude of gratitude this Thanksgiving.