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January 13, 2003

SM on tap to host deaf awareness month

From: Alameda Times-Star, CA - 13 Jan 2003

For the North County Times

SAN MARCOS ---- During the month of May, the city of San Marcos is slated to host what a local advocate for the deaf says will be the first Deaf Awareness Month in the history of San Diego County.

City staff formally recommended this week that the City Council support Deaf Awareness month, assistant city manager Paul Malone said Friday.
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The Council is expected to approve the recommendation "sometime in April," Malone said.

Deaf Awareness Month aims to ensure that the community and especially San Marcos businesses "become more accessible" to the deaf and hard of hearing, said Roy Hensley, program director for Signs of Silence, a San Marcos-based nonprofit agency for the deaf.

Throughout the month, Signs of Silence will provide free sign classes and interpreters for businesses interested in hiring deaf persons, place donation containers at every business within the city, and send applications for the California Telephone Access Program to San Marcos businesses, Hensley said.

The state-supported California Telephone Access Program lends businesses machinery that makes telephone equipment deaf-accessible. Most commonly, teletype machines are used.

"Accommodation (for the deaf) is weak wherever you go," Hensley said. "Especially in applying for jobs, it's like the Dark Ages."

Hensley said that businesses are often intimidated by language in the federal Americans With Disabilities Act, which requires employers to provide "reasonable accommodations" for deaf workers.

"That can be interpreted any way you want, but many people assume it means you have to provide accommodations all the time," Hensley said. "That's not necessarily true."

He said that even if it is just writing back and forth on sheets of paper, that's usually acceptable, "though there are some instances where an interpreter is needed."

Hensley added that many businesses don't realize that deaf people make good workers. "They're (deaf people) more focused because they don't get distracted like hearing people do, and probably because it's so hard for them to find jobs, they're very loyal," Hensley said.

He also said that tax credits are available for businesses that provide deaf-friendly accommodations.

He said that his organization has helped place "over 350" deaf workers since it was formed in 1996.

It took "a year and a half" to get Callaway Golf in Carlsbad interested in hiring a deaf worker several years ago, said Hensley, "and within a week, they're calling back wanting to hire more deaf workers."

Deaf Awareness Month "is a good thing for San Marcos," Mayor Corky Smith said Thursday. "Anything we can do to help people with their lifestyle and get along, that's what we're supposed to do."

Smith, who said he met with Hensley last week, also expressed support for Signs of Silence's offer to provide signers at City Council meetings.

"(The city) needs to find another avenue to promote deaf awareness," said city community services director Bill Schramm. "There's a lot that agencies and individuals can do to best serve the deaf community, and declaring a Deaf Awareness Month gives it a little better coverage."


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