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November 12, 2002

Activists learn of deaf people's fight for jobs

From: Cleveland Plain Dealer, OH
Nov. 12, 2002

Kaye Spector
Plain Dealer Reporter

North Olmsted- A group traveling the country to document poverty made its first stop to listen to deaf residents tell of their problems finding work.

The New Freedom Bus Tour, two busloads of poverty activists from across the nation, is traveling to 25 cities in a month to protest poverty and learn about it.

The group toured Cuyahoga and Lorain counties yesterday, with visits to shuttered factories and other places that illustrate problems for low-income families such as rent increases and health-care cuts.

Among the stops was Columbia Park, a manufactured-home community in Olmsted Township where tenants organized the state's largest rent strike after property fees were increased by 18 percent in 2001.

The buses pulled into the Clague Road United Church of Christ last night for a forum with residents - many of whom were deaf - on problems with housing, health care, education, communication and employment. About 75 people attended.

One was Sheryl Strenk, a deaf woman who told the group she can't get job interviews when she says in application letters that her prospective employer must provide her with an interpreter. She has sent out many resumes but is unable to find work, Strenk said.

"I'm frustrated because I don't know what's going on," Strenk told the group. "I feel it's important to have that interpreter to communicate and emphasize my strengths."

Kent Nemeth said deaf people also are hurt in the working world because they tend to have poorer reading skills - a result of having no interpreter and being forced to rely on lip-reading in public schools.

"You miss a lot of information," Nemeth said. "We need to change deaf education. It needs to improve in the U.S."

The tour plans to stop in other cities, including Chicago, New Orleans and El Paso, to visit welfare offices, closed factories, food banks, employment offices and health clinics.

Riders include students, social workers, musicians, artists and representatives of organized labor and religious communities. When the tour ends, organizers plan to bring their stories to the United Nations.

The Deaf and Deaf-Blind Committee on Human Rights in Oberlin hosted yesterday's events. The 18 co-sponsors included churches, student groups, advocates and community organizations such as Catholic Action Commission of Lorain County, Catholic Charities Family Center, Harkness Co-op of Oberlin College and Universal Health Care Action Network of Ohio.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:, 216-999-3904

© 2002 The Plain Dealer.