Deaf, blind outreach center re-opening in Charleston

Five years after closing due to state budget constraints, the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind outreach center reopens in Charleston on Monday.

The School for the Deaf and Blind, based in Spartanburg, is the state’s only specialized public school for deaf and blind students in grades K-12. The school, which also provides hearing and vision services at a Columbia center and in districts statewide, opened its first outreach center in Charleston back in 1988. Budget cuts forced the school to shutter its Charleston branch in 2010.

Named after the late Millie Colson, the center’s first manager, the Colson Outreach Center will provide early intervention, vision, hearing and accessibility services at no cost to deaf and blind people and their families in the state’s 10 coastal counties, in addition to fee-based sign language interpretation services.

“We got the bricks and mortar back open again because the demand is there,” said Scott Falcone, director of the school’s division of outreach services, particularly, he noted, in rural counties like Colleton and Jasper. “With us being in Charleston, it brings us closer to the Lowcountry, not just the Charleston area, but the Lowcountry districts that need our support.”

Anita Steichen-McDaniel, executive director of the South Carolina Association of the Deaf, told The Post and Courier via email she was “thrilled and exited” to see the outreach center reopen in Charleston.

“I knew Millie and her husband Johnny Colson for a long time,” she wrote. “They have helped many deaf and hard of hearing residents during their time at the original center. We, the deaf and hard of hearing community, miss them very much.”

Lacretia Cato of Huger knows firsthand the kind of impact these outreach services can have on Lowcountry families’ lives.

Shortly after her daughter Kenadi was born in May 2012, Cato noticed her baby’s eyes twitching back and forth. Kenadi was diagnosed with nystagmus, a visual condition, sometimes referred to as “dancing eyes,” that causes rapid, involuntary eye movements. Twice a month for three years, Kenadi worked with early intervention specialists from the School for the Deaf and the Blind to maximize her vision and improve her mobility. Now Kenadi, who used to be too scared to crawl because she could hardly see, chases after her little brother.

“I think if they didn’t step in when they did, we would be having some difficulties with reaching milestones,” she said. “They were there when we needed them.”

The Colson Outreach Center is hosting an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at its new location at 1064 Gardner Road in the Fairfield Business Park.

Reach Deanna Pan at 937-5764.