The five senior and community centers in Carroll County will soon have improved access for the visually and hearing impaired, thanks to a state grant.

Rich Ottone of the Carroll County Bureau of Aging worked on developing the grant proposal and said staff hope to use it to make senior centers more attractive to people with visual or hearing impairments.

“The fear is that as people get older their hearing decreases, their vision starts to fade, it is more difficult for people to enter 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 cannot hear. We want to try to remove that stigma for people,” he said.

The upgrades will include equipment, assistive devices and training for staff, according to the county’s Citizen Services Department.

County commissioners approved a request from the department to accept a grant for fiscal year 2023 from the Maryland Department of Aging Seniors Activity Center Operating Fund. The grant totals $12,242.

According to Gina Valentine, chief of the county’s Office of Aging and Disabilities, the grant can be used “to support new and innovative senior center programs, existing programs, successful programs as well as critical center operating needs.” for the elderly and community.

The office intends to partner with the local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind and the Maryland Relay System in this effort. Maryland Relay is a free public service that allows people unable to use a standard phone to make and receive phone calls.

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The office will assess each center for staff training and the purchase of appropriate equipment and assistive devices. More outreach will also be done to encourage hearing and visually impaired people to visit senior centres.

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 start of what he hopes “will be a longer journey to make the centers a little more accessible”.

Commissioner Eric Bouchat, a Republican from District 4, said he applauded the efforts.

“I can attest to the fact that what tends to happen to those of us with hearing loss is that you end up withdrawing from people because you don’t understand everything that’s being said,” said Bouchat said. “It has a psychological ramification as you get older, so taking this initiative will help break down that barrier for a lot of people.”