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February 28, 2003

Resources now available for High Desert deaf

From: Victorville Daily Press, CA - 28 Feb 2003

By NIKKI COBB/Staff Writer

VICTORVILLE - Last July, sheriff's deputies shot and killed 24-year-old Ignacio Mendez of Hesperia. The officers said it was self-defense, and the district attorney agreed. But family members argued Mendez couldn't hear their orders to lay down his gun. He was deaf.

It's an extreme example, but deaf people encounter misconceptions, communication failures and misunderstanding on a daily basis, said those on hand for the opening of the Center on Deafness HI-Desert.

Sometimes, the result is an inconvenience. Other times, as for Mendez, the consequences are life-threatening.

"We provide seven services by state mandate," said Kathy Bates-Polster, the director of the Center on Deafness for the Inland Empire. Bates-Polster, who is deaf, said the organization provides comprehensive assistance for the 20,000 deaf and hard-of-hearing residents of the High Desert.

"Community education, advocacy, counseling, employment, information and referrals, communication and independent living services are what we offer," she explained. "My goal for the community is to collaborate, to work together so communication doesn't have to be a barrier."

Linda Ryzcek of Hesperia said because she speaks well people often don't realize she can't hear them. They mumble, she said, and don't look at her when they talk. Or, annoyingly, they exaggerate their enunciation to the point where a conversation becomes ridiculous.

Worst of all, Ryzcek said, is the treatment she sometimes receives when she tells people she is deaf. They treat her like a child, she explained, talking down to her as if her hearing disability has affected her mental faculties.

Juliet Maucere speaks to teens about prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. She said all too often medical professionals hand a deaf patient brochures or prepared materials explaining their diagnosis, without taking the time to communicate and answer questions.

"Sex education is important, and deaf teens might feel uncomfortable discussing these things through an interpreter," Maucere said. "I can talk with them directly."

Angela White, outreach coordinator for the center, said hearing people don't always know how to approach someone who doesn't hear, and many deaf people don't know their rights.

"If someone's in a wheelchair, there are clear steps to take," White said. "You can put bars on the bathroom walls, widen the doors."

"But deafness is an ongoing thing. You have to keep making the effort," White said.

The newly-opened center also sells books and technology items, such as smoke alarms that alert a resident by flashing lights instead of sound. If there's enough interest, classes in American Sign Language may be offered.

Elisa Sedlacek, a community advocate who is deaf, said she hoped to break down the barriers between people.

"I would want to tell my fellow community members that we're not only here to educate them (the non-deaf), we all need to educate each other," Sedlacek said.

"We want them to understand us, but we want to understand them as well," she concluded.

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