Boyce Williams: Beyond Silence.
Dr. Williams, for more than 38 years the prime force behind federal programs assisting deaf Americans, died on December 28 at the age of 88 as a result of advanced Alzheimers disease.
In addition to dignity and hope, his leadership among the American deaf community has brought countless other tangible improvements to the lives of all deaf people.
His federal career began as a consultant; he was charged with the development of a vocational rehabilitation services program for deaf, hard-of-hearing and speech-disabled people. When he retired on August 3, 1983, he was Chief, Deafness and Communicative Disorders Branch, Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education, and was vested with broad leadership responsibilities relating to the promotion, development and maintenance of services and programs needed by deaf and other communicatively disabled adults in their vocational rehabilitation. This entailed working not only with the state vocational rehabilitation agencies but with countless other public and private agencies and organizations and with consumer groups. In essence, Dr. William's government tenure has also been the history of the vocational rehabilitation of deaf people.
Much of his early work at RSA centered on the promotion of resources needed by the state vocational rehabilitation agencies in their work with deaf clients. In the vacuum of trained vocational rehabilitation manpower to serve deaf people, Dr. Williams arranged for an agreement to be drawn up between the Convention of American Instructors of the Deaf and RSA encouraging the state residential schools for the deaf and the state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies to set up cooperative rehabilitation facilities on the school campuses. Functioning as year-round programs serving students during the school months and adults in the summers, the facilities enabled the state VR agencies to serve more deaf people and to serve them better. Initiated in the late 1940's, the cooperative education-vocational rehabilitation facility program for deaf people may be regarded as a progenitor of the 1982 Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services national initiative to promote greater awareness and foster better cooperative programs between vocational rehabilitation and special education.
Vocational rehabilitation legislation passed in 1954 authorizing research and demonstration with long- and short-term training was well utilized by Dr. Williams in the development of needed manpower and programs. A research and demonstration project funded in 1955 established a pioneer mental health program for deaf people, marking the opening of a service area not previously available to them.
Research and demonstration projects promoted by Dr. Williams initiated services to other unserved segments of the deaf population, provided valuable insights into the behavioral aspects of deafness, produced needed data on the employment status of deaf people, helped to establish much needed community and counseling services for deaf people, established the National Theater of the Deaf, the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, the American Deafness and Rehabilitation Association (ADARA), and postsecondary programs for deaf people at existing colleges. The first World Federation of the Deaf Congress ever held in this country and a Census of the Deaf Population in the United States were other research projects promoted by Dr. Williams.
Beginning in 1957, he was personally involved in the development and conduct of over 100 short-term training projects or workshops concerning deafness and deaf people. A rich source of new manpower and technology for developing programs, the workshops were also the incubator of deaf professional growth. Dr. Williams made certain that deaf individuals were invited to each workshop where they shared with the hearing participants activities conducive to professional and leadership development. A great many of our leading deaf professionals credit their ascendancy to administrative positions to the start they received at these workshops.
Long-term training programs for rehabilitation counselors to serve deaf people which began in 1955 has developed the corps of "deafness" specialists on which the vocational rehabilitation of the deaf has been able to advance. Previous to the establishment of the long-term training programs, which Dr. Williams played a principle part, few if any rehabilitation counselors were knowledgeable about deafness and deaf people and/or had the communication skills necessary for effective rapport with a deaf client. Today, many rehabilitation counselors trained to work with deaf clients are employed at state VR agencies and the number of deaf people rehabilitated annually has increased proportionately.
The long-term training authority was also utilized by Dr. Williams to dramatically increase the use of manual communication by rehabilitation personnel, allied professionals and others. Vastly improved public attitudes toward manual communication and to deaf people in general stem directly from the Communication Skills Program, jointly sponsored by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and RSA since 1967. He was also instrumental in promoting a 5-year training grant to increase quickly the national supply of trained interpreters. The success of the project led to the passage of legislation for a national interpreter training program which still continues through RSA to provide increased numbers of qualified interpreters for the deaf.
Throughout his long government career, Boyce Williams maintained an open door to deaf people, many of whom sought and benefitted from his counsel. Always close to his heart was the plight of deaf people struggling against apparently insurmountable odds that blocked their way to self-realization. Removal of those odds through resources available to him in vocational rehabilitation programs was his lifework and mission.
Boyce Williams is gone; but for a long time to come we will all know that he was here.
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|Title Annotation:||services for the deaf|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1999|
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