Bridges for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing’s mission is to serve an empowered and united community in which the Deaf, deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing equally participate and are equally valued. We envision a world without barriers in which potential is unlimited and self-realization is possible.
History | Profile
Bridges for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is the only comprehensive, health and human services agency in Middle Tennessee dedicated to providing a range of services for the Deaf and hard of hearing. The agency began in 1927 as a speech-reading class and has since expanded to include interpreting services, a comprehensive youth center, a fitness program, education and community outreach, and empowerment and advocacy services. The agency unites the Deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing through education, services, and support, empowering all individuals to achieve their full potential. While agency services have changed and expanded throughout the years, the vision of a world in which there are no barriers for individuals with hearing loss to reach their goals remains. Bridges offers program and services to the more than 207,000 individuals in Middle Tennessee who are Deaf or hard of hearing, regardless of the level of hearing loss or the chosen method of communication.
Overall, the agency enters FY19 as a thriving organization with robust programs, a highly dedicated staff, board of directors, and volunteer team, and a healthy financial profile, even in light of recent changes in our funding community. With a new strategic plan in place to guide the agency’s work into 2020, Bridges is creating a continuum of services to meet the needs of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing from birth to elder years.
Programs | Outcomes
Interpreting Services provided almost 24,000 hours of interpreting services in FY18 in a variety of settings, including hospitals, physician practices, and mental health providers as well as education, workforce, the arts, and the community.
Adult Education & Outreach (AEO) offered 31 workshops during FY18 on Deaf culture and related issues, and teaches American Sign Language at all levels. A program of AEO, LivingWell focuses on bringing balance to everyday life by providing programs that emphasize health and overall wellness, including fully language accessible fitness classes.
The Empowerment Program offers the support and resources Deaf and hard of hearing individuals need to overcome barriers and create successful and self-determined lives. Examples include job placement, housing, food security, access barriers to healthcare, etc., academic support, and more. In FY18, Empowerment served 203 clients.
Youth Education & Services (The Signing ACEs) helps Deaf and hard of hearing students reach their full potential in, emphasizing language acquisition as well as social-emotional well-being and life skills. Our after-school program focuses on fluency acquisition in English and American Sign Language, recognizing that this fluency and subsequent communication are the keys to developmental milestones, academic success, future employment, self-advocacy, and self-determination. The Signing ACEs served 134 unduplicated students across all programs in FY18.
Additionally, the program provides a free sleepaway camp for our Deaf and hard of hearing students. An important component of the program is parent support and empowerment. Little ACE & Me is an early intervention program that provides family support and language acquisition for children from birth to five years old. This program is unique to Middle Tennessee, and we are proud of its early success and growth. Camp Sign Me Up is a summer day camp for hearing students who want to learn ASL, and in 2018, we launched Club Sign Me Up, after-school clubs in schools across MNPS.
Advocacy at the systems-change level is a new initiative of Bridges for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. In 2017, Bridges for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing hosted a very successful Criminal Justice Summit with the Mayor’s Office, the DA’s office, the Public Defender’s Office, Metro Nashville Police Department, Davidson County Sheriff’s Office, General Sessions Court, Juvenile Court, and more vested representatives, followed by a Law Enforcement Town Hall and a community meeting. These efforts resulted in greater understanding between law enforcement and the Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities and the creation of the Deaf Driver Safety Law that was enacted on July 1, 2018. A town hall for public transportation was held in January 2018 and one on Deaf Education in Middle Tennessee was held in August 2018. Summits for mental health and the corrections system are upcoming. We will be working to strike the offensive “hearing impaired” that is currently written into State code with the preferred “Deaf and hard of hearing.” We continue to work to make public services accessible, such as working with AMC Theatres to offer regularly scheduled open-caption screenings of first-run films.