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January 29, 2003

Much to say in silence

From: Redlands Daily Facts, CA - 29 Jan 2003

The world may be silent, but not without lively conversation, for the deaf.
By Shefrah Ann Rozenstain
For the Daily Facts

Greg and Gunita King are both deaf. They live in a silent world but they're not loners.

The Kings' circle of friends are mostly "hearies," a term the local deaf use for people who can hear. Their openness with both hearing and deaf individuals has earned them warm friendships in both worlds. They do make one concession to their handicap. During conversations with "hearies" they prefer to write their responses rather than speak.

Tim Chapman, a hearing signer for the deaf explains, "Most lip-reading deaf can speak, but prefer to remain silent. They have seen hearing individuals comment, in front of them, that they sounds funny,' not realizing that the deaf have heard' them.

"The deaf are self-conscious like anyone else would be under the circumstances and feel more comfortable not speaking," Chapman says.

"There are two sharply divided schools of thought when it comes to integrating the deaf into a hearing society," says Chapman. "They may only learn to sign or they may learn to vocalize and read lips with perhaps a little signing thrown in ."

The deaf who know how to sign only run into severe communication problems in a hearing world where few people sign.

Gunita King can communicate in three languages. Latvian by birth, she reads and writes Latvian and English, though she doesn't speak either language. And she's accomplished in yet a third language, signing and reading the hand signals used in American Sign Language (ASL) for the deaf. All college catalogues list ASL as a foreign language.

Born deaf, 27-year-old Gunita began to hear sounds when she was 2. She has hearing aids but, as with many deaf adults learning to hear, it's frustrating to hear sounds she can't identify, simple sounds such as a ticking clock or a barking dog. First, someone has to tell her what she's hearing, then she happily adds the new sounds to her hearing vocabulary.

Chapman tells the story of a relative who was profoundly deaf. "A civil engineer by profession, he lived in Scotland and would lecture university classes with a decided Scottish accent. Whoever his hearing instructor had been was someone who know how to teach the deaf to speak. They had even included the Scottish accent! And that was long before there were electronic devices to help."

Greg and Gunita met in Latvia where he was a tourist. They've been married six years and have no children.

Today the Kings keep busy. Gunita has worked at Carl's Jr. for more than three years and Greg drives her to and from work. Greg, 36, works several hours a week at the Yucaipa Seventh-day Adventist Church where the couple attend. They want to work full-time.

A disability supplement from Social Security stretches the Kings' earned income. Because they are so outgoing and accustomed to interfacing with the hearing world their deafness doesn't seem to have slowed them down much.

Fred Gravatt is a deaf instructor at Crafton Hills College where he teaches ASL. All 21 students in his class can hear. His classroom is so quiet that a fallen lens cover sounds like a clap of thunder.

Visiting one of Gravatt's classes is a soundless sight to behold. On a recent Tuesday the class was learning to sign occupations and trades. From carpenter to plumber, physician to teacher, secretary to letter carrier, Gravatt wrote one title at a time on the board, turned to face his class and signed what he had just written. The class silently signed back.

Now and again a burst of laughter would punctuate the silences as Gravatt used facial expressions to mimic a sign he'd just written.

In a recent interview Gravatt signed about his teaching and his family while David DiLeo, a former student, interpreted. DiLeo will graduate from the Interpreters Training Program in June 2003, a course offered by many community colleges. Gravatt is one of his former teachers.

Gravatt signs how his life changed from a world of sound to one of silence. "I became deaf from an ear infection when I was 7."

Gravatt's wife, Shelley, is also deaf. She's the principal of Career and Technology Education at California School for the Deaf in Riverside.

"Our five children hear and know how to sign. Society refers to them as CODA, children of deaf adults," Gravatt signs.

"I've been teaching part time for the past 20, 21 years and began by teaching basic math and writing skills to deaf adults. Now I teach ASL at three colleges and drive 630 miles a week to my classes."

Today, in his 50s, Gravatt has found a fulfilling niche in life as an ASL instructor to hearing students.

All California deaf have two major lines of communication open to the hearing world: translators/signers and the California Relay Service.

People such as DiLeo and Chapman and services like the Relay Service are living links to a silent world.

The California Relay Service is the telephone bridge between the world of silence and that of sound. Accessed by first dialing 711, it's available to the physically impaired as well as the deaf. The California Public Utilities Commission administers this state-mandated service.

Phone calls to Gravatt's home go through a relay service in Riverbank, Calif., a small town east of San Francisco. Even though Gravatt lives in Riverside there is no extra charge for relayed calls. Only regular long distance charges apply if a caller lives outside Gravatt's calling area.

Chapman describes the steps needed to phone a deaf person. "First dial the Relay Service at 711. Be ready to give them the number you want as they don't kook up number for callers.

"If this is the first time you've used the Relay Service they'll give you a brief rundown of what to expect next. When you're through say I'm through.' That's the only way they'll know when they can disconnect you."

If Gravatt has initiated a call to a hearing person he would have ended it by typing "SKSK" (hanging up) to let the Relay Service know he's through.

If the deaf just want to call each other they don't need the Relay Service. Their home-based TTY, or TDD, replaces it. However, they have to go through the Relay Service when they call a hearing number without a TTY.

Today's TTYs and TDDs for deaf use have evolved from the old teletype machines that once clacked away in Western Union offices and newsrooms. Smaller, lighter, quieter, they perform the same functions, with a few extras. A group of Michigan State University students has estimated that some 3 million people use a TTY or TDD.

Specialized phones are provided at no cost to California residents who have phone service and complete a certification form. There is no income requirement.

The Deaf and Disabled Telecommunications Program is a California State mandated program, under governance of the California Public Utilities Commission. Under the DDTP the California Telephone Access Program distributes telecommunications equipment and services for individuals certified as having functional limitations of hearing, vision, mobility, speech and/or interpretation of information.

CTAP is funded by a small surcharge that appears on all Californians' telephone bills. The money collected from this surcharge pays for both the California Telephone Equipment Loan Program and the California Relay Service. This surcharge appears on your phone bill as "CA Relay Service and Communications Devices Fund."

Financial help is available for low income deaf or disabled individuals to obtain communication aids if they are verified as disabled. This help comes through the California Telephone Access Program responsible for distributing telecommunications equipment and services. The money to pay for these services comes from a small monthly surcharge of 5 cents on all phone bills in California.

CTAP Service Centers are located throughout California, including one in Riverside, at 6370 Magnolia Ave. Suite 310. The voice phone for this center is 1-800-806-1191. Its TTY is 1-800-806-4474.

Whether they're called translators, interpreters or signers, it's that human touch, plus electronic aids and the Relay Service, that together keep the deaf and hearing in touch with each other. The deaf can look forward to having an even more productive part in a hearing world.

Copyright © 2003 Redlands Daily Facts