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June 12, 2003

Group's aid makes deaf pupil's trip meaningful

From: St. Petersburg Times, FL - Jun 12, 2003

Citrus Hearing Impaired Program Services helps find money to pay sign language interpreters so Scott Jackson can benefit fully from his upcoming Boys State experience in Tallahassee. By JORGE SANCHEZ, Times Staff Writer © St. Petersburg Times published June 12, 2003

LECANTO - When Scott Jackson learned he had been invited to attend the Boys State leadership program in Tallahassee later this month, a problem arose.

Scott, 17, who will be a senior at Lecanto High School this fall, is deaf and requires sign language interpreters at school. To make sense out of the Boys State program - which will include a week of lectures and seminars at various locations in Tallahassee - Scott will need a team of sign language interpreters.

The cost for the interpreters is about $3,000 to cover the program, which runs June 22 to 28. Boys State is designed to foster an interest, or understanding, of state government.

Because no local funding was available, a Crystal River advocacy group for the hearing impaired set out to find the money to allow Scott to attend Boys State.

And within a week, it achieved its goal.

When the American Legion state headquarters, which sponsors Boys State, told Scott's mother, Holly Babyak, that it couldn't pay for the interpreters, she began to worry.

"Without a sign language interpreter, Scott wouldn't be able to benefit from the full experience of Boys State," Babyak said.

Sign language interpreters use hand motions to convey entire words, unlike other sign language that finger-spells words letter by letter.

Babyak called Citrus Hearing Impaired Program Services Inc., a Crystal River agency that provides services for the hearing impaired.

Maureen Whitaker, executive director of the agency, known as CHIPS, decided she would take on the cause to find the money to pay for the sign language interpreters.

"These are trained professionals," she said "Knowing sign language is not enough to interpret. It's a visual format. You can't finger-spell for events like Boys State or at school. You'd never be able to keep up."

Whitaker began to work her sources, sending out e-mails and making phone calls.

The school system turned her down, saying it couldn't help because Boys State isn't a school function.

"Everyone kept telling me it was the American Legion's responsibility, but they said the money wasn't available, so I had to keep looking. I had some hesitation, because I've been down this type of road before," Whitaker said.

But after a hectic week, CHIPS found the money - in Tallahassee.

Tallahassee Community College said it could provide sign language interpreters for some of the sessions held at its campus.

At first, the Florida Capitol, where some of the Boys State programs are held, agreed to provide interpreters. But then the offer was withdrawn. Whitaker said it was because the Boys State legislative sessions are mock sessions. Had they been real sessions, a sign language interpreter would have been available.

Whitaker was able to get a grant from the Able Trust, also known as the Florida Governor's Alliance for the Employment of Citizens With Disabilities. Over the past 10 years, the Able Trust has awarded more than $10-million to individuals with disabilities.

"The Able Trust is paying $3,000 to get Scott the sign language interpreters he needs," Whitaker said.

Scott has a 3.8 grade point average, is a member of the National Honor Society and has held offices in student government. His mother said he is exactly the type of person Boys State needs.

"I don't want to have people thinking bad things about the local American Legion," Babyak said, "because they recognized Scott's abilities. But Scott is the first deaf person to attend Boys State, so I think it just took everyone by surprise."

Whitaker said she was glad CHIPS was able to help.

"It certainly was good to see all the hard work pay off," Whitaker said. "Not only did we get the money, but the Able Trust will inform the American Legion of its responsibilities under the American With Disabilities Act. They will have to set aside some money for things like this."

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