Arkansas Governor Hutchinson signs bill into law providing deaf people better access to mental health services


Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) signed into law a bill that focuses on improving mental health access for deaf and hard of hearing people in the state. 

ABC 7 news covered the signing ceremony.

Act 644 would direct the Arkansas Department of Human Services to create a “Deaf Services Coordinator” position. 

The person has to be a qualified mental health expert and has to be fluent in ASL with a thorough understanding of the deaf community and culture. 

The coordinator would work with mental health services in the state to advocate and coordinate needs for Deaf, DeafBlind, Hard of Hearing, DeafDisabled, or Oral Deaf people. 

The law also will create a certification process for mental health professionals to provide culturally affirmative and linguistically appropriate mental health services.

The act also establishes a ten-person advisory committee with the requirement that at least 51% of them are deaf or hard of hearing. 

The law creates a “Mental Health for Individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing Bill of Rights.” It points out that as a group, Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, and hard of hearing people are underserved in many ways, including access to mental health services, and have a higher risk of mental health issues because they may lack communication with their family, teachers, and healthcare professionals. 

The law says deaf people should have access to a mental health professional that is either fluent in communication methods that fit with the deaf client’s needs or is knowledgable of the cultural needs of clients. 

The bill was introduced by State Representative Charlene Fite (R-Van Buren). ABC 7 said she was a former teacher of deaf students. Rep. Fite said this bill ensures deaf clients get linguistically and culturally appropriate services. 

ABC 7 said Arkansas is the first in the nation to do this through legislation, explaining that 13 other states have similar laws but only after being sued. 

A Deaf Arkansas resident, Nathan Burleson, shared his thoughts with “The Daily Moth.” 

Burleson: This is a great benefit for our Deaf Community because it helps us to gain access to our needs and our communication with professionals for better service. Not only that, all professionals will be required to take training to understand us better by learning our culture and our language. Other states often got sued due to miscommunication or because they mislabelled us due to our deafness or lack of access to better service. Professionals would be able to develop better relationships with us.

Alex: Thank you Burleson for sharing.

Bill Text: