PRESS RELEASE - March 9, 2004
Office of The Governor
Capitol Bldg., 4th Floor
Santa Fe, NM 87503

Gilbert Gallegos
(505) 476-2217

Governor Bill Richardson signs Educational Bill of Rights
For Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children

SANTA FE - Governor Bill Richardson today signed legislation creating the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children's Educational Bill of Rights.

Two identical bills, HB 186 and SB 206, create the Bill of Rights. Governor Richardson also signed HB 187, which puts the Commission of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in charge of the Telecommunications Access Fund.

Governor Richardson delivered the following remarks during a bill-signing ceremony at the School for the Deaf in Santa Fe:

It’s great to be back to the School for the Deaf. I was here last Fall during the education campaign, and I remember the great response and warm welcome you gave me.

How did your football and volleyball teams finish their seasons?

I’m proud to be here again - this time to sign legislation that represents a turning point for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community in New Mexico. With the stroke of my pen, the state of New Mexico will formally recognize the unique communication needs of children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.

More than anything, the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children’s Educational Bill of Rights raises the public awareness to the plight of these special children and their families.

Unfortunately, many people are ignorant about the needs of these children. Children born deaf face incredible hurdles as they learn language skills. It’s not as if you can teach all deaf children sign language and expect them to effectively communicate in the real world.

The Bill of Rights will serve as an important reminder to state agencies and institutions that deal with children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Among other things, the Bill of Rights stresses that:

· Children will placed in the least restrictive educational environment and receive services based on their unique needs.

· Children will be exposed to age-appropriate peers and deaf and hard-of-hearing role models.

With this new law, we are encouraging those agencies, including the Public Education Department, Department of Health and the School for the Deaf, to develop specific recommendations to make sure these children have what every other child takes for granted - an education that fully addresses their communication needs.

The Bill of Rights is the result of a series of recommendations from the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Task Force. I applaud that Task Force for all of its hard work.

In a moment, I’ll also sign House Bill 187, which puts the Commission of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in charge of the Telecommunications Access Fund, which pays for specialized phone service for deaf and hard-of-hearing people. This change means the Commission will now get its operating funding from the Access Fund, rather than the state General Fund. It also opens the door for additional funding for the Commission in the future.

I’d like to recognize Representative Dan Silva, as well as Dan’s four-year-old grandson, Thomas. Young Thomas deserves to grow up and go to school in an environment where he doesn’t have to struggle to communicate.