The Oklahoma legislative year was busy with events including the teacher walk out. One important event though flew under the radar. To correct that, DRS is proud to announce that Gov. Mary Fallin signed House Bill 1244, also known as the Jeri Cooper Act on April 30.
Not only does this bill acknowledge the hard work and advocacy that Jeri Cooper, Visual Services’ rehabilitation teacher and DeafBlind specialist, has done for our clients who are DeafBlind, but it opens the door to funding support service providers.
“I cried when Rep. Mark LePak told me that he named the bill the Jeri Cooper Act. I used to work for his wife and he told me that he’s been telling my story for about 10 years,” Jeri Cooper said. “I was very humbled and touched that somebody would do that.”
SSPs are professionals who provide visual, auditory and environmental information and communication assistance to people with vision and hearing loss.
“People have no idea how SSPs empower DeafBlind people. Without a SSP you are so isolated,” Cooper said. “SSPs give us information about our surroundings so we don’t miss conversations and other important things.
“When I go to a meeting without a SSP, I am quiet because I miss things but when I have a SSP, I take part more. I am outgoing and enjoy socializing. Because of my SSP, I recently met and talked with a person at a conference who had her hair braided in multiple braids and each braid was a different color. It was fascinating and fun without my SSP I would have never known,” Cooper said.
DRS Director Noel Tyler predicts many individuals will benefit from the new law and learn from Cooper’s experiences.
“When I heard there would be a Jeri Cooper Act, I was not surprised. Jeri’s story is inspiring. DRS is lucky to have Jeri on our team,” Tyler said.
The act was authored by Lepak and Sen. A.J. Griffin. It requires, subject to the availability of funds, the State Department of Rehabilitation Services
list of 5 items
◾ establish a program to broaden the availability of support service providers in the DeafBlind community;
◾ develop a mission statement for the program and promulgate rules necessary for its implementation;
◾ provide grants to providers and organizations that offer services for the DeafBlind community;
◾ develop a certification requirement and training program for said providers and organizations; and
◾ use a request-for-proposal process to award grants, which are capped at $300,000.
Cooper is a successful Visual Services client who herself is DeafBlind. DRS helped her earn several degrees, including a master’s degree in rehabilitation teaching for the blind and certification in DeafBlind rehabilitation. She became a DRS employee in 2009.
This June, Cooper plans to celebrate the passing of this law in connection with Helen Keller Awareness Week with a walk around the Capitol.
Read the act in its entirety: