Carroll County’s five senior and community centers will soon have improved access for those with vision and hearing impairments, thanks to a state grant.
Rich Ottone, of the Carroll County Bureau of Aging, worked to develop the grant proposal and said staff hopes to use it to make senior centers more appealing to people with visual or hearing impairments.
“The fear is that when people get older, their hearing goes, their vision starts to go, it makes it harder for people to come into a building like the Westminster Senior Center or the South Carroll Senior Center because they are nervous about what they might bump into, what they can and can’t hear. We want to try to eliminate that stigma for folks,” he said.
Improvements will include equipment, assistive devices and training for staff, according to the county’s Department of Citizen Services.
County commissioners approved a request from the department to accept a fiscal 2023 grant from the Maryland Department of Aging’s Senior Citizens Activities Center Operating Fund. The grant totals $12,242.
According to Gina Valentine, chief of the county’s Bureau of Aging and Disabilities, the grant may be used “to support the new and innovative senior center programs, existing programs, successful programs as well as critical operating needs within the senior and community centers.”
The bureau intends to partner with the local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind and the Maryland Relay system on the effort. Maryland Relay is a free public service that allows people who are unable to use a standard telephone to make and receive phone calls.
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The bureau will assess each center for staff training and the purchasing of appropriate equipment and assistive devices. More outreach will also be done to encourage those with hearing and vision impairments to visit senior centers.
Grant funds will pay for brochures, assistive devices, large print items, glasses with lights, screen readers for exercise equipment and computers and headphones.
Ottone said this is just the beginning of what he hopes “will be a longer journey to making the centers a little bit more accessible.”
Commissioner Eric Bouchat, a District 4 Republican, said he applauds the efforts.
“I can attest to the fact that what tends to happen to those of us who have hearing loss is you end up withdrawing from people because you aren’t picking up on everything that’s said,” Bouchat said. “That has a psychological ramification as you age, so taking this initiative will help break that barrier down for a lot of people.”