Deaf culture fades

27 01 2005

Good information — yall should read it.

Deaf culture fades

E-mail and closed-caption television supplant deaf clubs as centers of the community.

By Jeff Kunerth
Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted January 27 2005

In Philadelphia, where Jim Schooley grew up, there were four different deaf clubs. They sponsored basketball and baseball teams. There were pool tables and dart boards. During Christmas, a deaf Santa handed out presents to the children.

The deaf clubs were the center of the deaf community, the portals through which the deaf became indoctrinated into deaf culture.

Not any more. Throughout the nation, deaf clubs are on the decline. The younger deaf are eschewing the deaf clubs of their parents for the Internet, text-messaging and e-mail.

“There is a big fear we are going to lose deaf culture because of technology,” said Rosanne Trapani, coordinator of Deaf & Hard of Hearing Services at Valencia Community College.

Those who consider themselves part of the deaf culture use American Sign Language as their primary means of communication. Based on national studies of the deaf who are proficient in sign language, the deaf community in Florida is estimated at 38,400 people.

About a fifth of those — 7,300 — live in Central Florida.

But at the Orlando Club for the Deaf, which has been around since 1949, membership numbers less than 30.

At a recent gathering, middle-aged and elderly deaf members sat at long tables, eating egg-salad sandwiches and playing bingo. A strobe light signaled the winner.

Efforts to expand the club’s membership have been futile.

“We tried for the last three years to pull the youth in here, but when they see the old people, it’s not their thing. They can’t relate,” said club historian Tim Wata, a 50-year-old Lockheed Martin engineer.

Schooley blames it on technology. Televisions come with closed-caption devices. Hollywood movies can be ordered with “open caption” subtitles. There is e-mail and Internet chat rooms for the deaf. A hand-held text-messaging device is growing in popularity. And a new system called video relay allows a deaf person to communicate visually with another deaf person or interpreter through a TV set.

“Most of them stay home — just like the hearing people,” said Schooley, 70, who worked in graphic arts.

Lost to the new technologies of e-mail and text-messaging are the emotions and inflections of deaf communication. To watch two deaf people talking is to witness an interpersonal silent movie that involves pantomime and improvisation as much as hand signals. Eyes narrow. Shoulders shrug. Eyebrows raise. Heads shake.

The traditions, customs and language of the deaf community are all visual. American Sign Language, first formalized in 1817, is as much about body language and facial expressions as it is hand gestures.

The essence of deaf culture remains face-to-face interaction. But the way that interaction takes place is changing.

Instead of one club that is all things to all deaf people, the deaf community in Orlando is divided into several groups. For some, it’s the deaf bowling league and softball teams. For others, it’s the “coffee chats” at Starbucks and the “silent dinners” in the mall food courts. And for others, it’s the deaf church ministries.

The desire to be with other deaf people is often served by deaf events — a performance by deaf poet Peter Cook; a revival by deaf evangelist Ronnie Rice; the annual Deaf Fest, which last year drew 1,200 deaf people to the Central Florida Fairgrounds; or Deaf Awareness Day set for July at Wet ‘n Wild.

Events and activities have replaced club membership in satisfying the overriding desire among the deaf to be with other deaf people — the sense of belonging that comes only when you are with someone who understands exactly who you are.

“Many of the deaf are so isolated. They can’t talk to everybody, so if they meet another deaf person, they are so hungry for conversation,” said Debra Jenkins, a deaf training specialist at the Center for Independent Living in Winter Park.

Despite the communication technologies available to the deaf, it is still direct contact that holds the community together.

“The unifying characteristic is deafness,” Trapani said. “When they get together, it’s an all-night event. Time means nothing.”

After every silent dinner or deaf club meeting or a night of friends getting together for cards, there is a reluctance to leave the community of the deaf for the world of the hearing.

“The deaf never leave,” said Debbie Bennett, president of the Orlando Club for the Deaf. “They stay and stay and stay. It’s the deaf way.”

Jeff Kunerth can be reached at or 407-420-5392.

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Grant W. Laird, Jr.


24 01 2005

Deaf logoOver years I had opportunity to meet many deaf and hard of hearing (d/hh) people from all over United States at conference, expo, workshop, and other events. It is good to know that many d/hh people have good job locally whether they have college degree or not. There?s also large numbers of d/hh that has no job for years.

Also, I’ve noticed that there are high numbers of Deaf people with A.A. or B.S. degree(s) are in “Special Education,” or related. It’s alright – it’s just that thousands of them ended up working at deaf school, deaf university, deaf education program, deaf-related nonprofit organization and others. I think it is wonderful ? I have no problem with it.

Another large numbers of Deaf people working in federal such as US Post Services (USPS), IRS, and many other department. There’s numbers of Deaf people working for state-level departments especially in capital of each state. For example, there are many deaf people working for state in Austin which is capital for Texas.

Today, I still see low numbers of deaf people enter challenge field such as web designer, engineering, server administrator, video developer, and all other technology related out there. Also, there are big void in financial, medical and legal field too. I am sure there’s more out there but I can’t think of one right now.

Among other thing, many deaf people still depends on Social Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) for years but that’s another story.

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