CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At 15, Ariel Depp of South Charleston takes honors classes and wants to own her own business one day.
"But without interpreters," she said, "I cannot achieve my dreams."
Depp was one of about 50 people who attended a public forum Thursday at the state Capitol Complex to air concerns about the West Virginia Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. American Sign Language interpreters attended the meeting, which was hosted by the commission's board.
The meeting got heated at times, as guests discussed their frustrations over state services for the deaf. They said officials need to better advocate for deaf people and help them find interpreters and other services.
"I feel that the commission has not been doing anything to make sure that we have quality interpreters," said Monica Kelly of Huntington, who co-founded a group called the Deaf Caucus.
Kelly said West Virginia often pays for out-of-state interpreters because state agencies won't approve local interpreters, even though they're qualified.
Her husband, Josiah Kelly, used to live in Rochester, N.Y., which he said provides much better services for the deaf.
In West Virginia, "it's like a Third World country," he said. "The deaf are treated like second-class citizens. We're so far behind."
State officials seem "overwhelmed with all the work they have to do," he said.
He and others at the forum complained about the leadership of Marissa Sanders, the commission's executive director. Some demanded her resignation.
"She doesn't understand our needs," Josiah Kelly said. "She's looking at us as a group of disabled people, not as a culture."
State law says that if possible, the commission's director should be deaf or hard of hearing. Sanders is not.