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December 30, 2002

Deaf man teaches sign language in deaf-friendly library

From: Charlotte Observer, NC - 30 Dec 2002

Associated Press

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio - A man deaf since childhood is in his third decade of teaching sign language at a public library that provides services for the hearing impaired.

"I want hearing people to know about the deaf," Junior Lee Doughty, 66, said through a sign language interpreter after his one-hour class.

"A lot of hearing people don't understand what it's like."

On a recent evening, 15 students hung on each letter and word from the hands and gestures of Doughty, a former actor who retired as the library janitor 21 years ago.

During the "Proud Hands" session, Doughty grunted for emphasis and put his elbows at his sides and shook his hands in the air - sign language for applause as each student finished a turn at signing the alphabet.

In the 1980s, former branch director Shony Long and her staff, who became frustrated trying to communicate with Doughty, began learning sign language and started collecting books for the deaf.

"Through our difficulty in communicating with him, we realized what a significant problem this was for a not insignificant amount of our customer base," said Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library Director Steve Wood.

"When someone is visually impaired, you know it. You know you must do something different. For someone who is deaf, they will move around without letting you know they are there. They won't communicate because they know we can't communicate with them."

Doughty spent his childhood struggling to connect with the hearing world. He grew up on a Louisiana farm but doesn't know his hometown because of the problems he had talking with his hearing family.

He learned sign language as an adolescent attending a school for the deaf in Raleigh, N.C.

"That's when the world opened up to me," Doughty said.

Doughty has been an actor for Cleveland Signstage Theatre and is a familiar figure in the city's Coventry neighborhood of boutique shops and tudor-style homes. He was once voted "Mayor of Coventry."

In the "Proud Hands" classes, Bruce Groves, who has difficulty hearing, interpreted Doughty's instructions for the students and helped them with their signing.

Students Deloise Burge, 48, and Deborah Miller, 39, were adding to skills they learned as members of the sign language choir at Southeast Seventh-day Adventist Church in Cleveland.

The library branch is recognized as a regional center for materials and services for and about the deaf. It has several thousand books, magazines, closed-caption videos and advanced texts on American Sign Language and interpreting.

Jay Burton, manager of library program development for the state library of Ohio, on Monday said the Coventry branch collection was unusual. Such unique collections typically result from a library's attention to community needs, he said.

Branch director Abigail Noland is fluent in sign language and each worker has been trained in signing.


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