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September 25, 2003

Crafting a symbol of caring

From:, NJ - Sep 25, 2003


No smoking. No left turn. No parking. No cellphones.

They're all signs that contain a red circle with a slash across it, as did the former logo for the New Jersey Division of Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Karrie Fiorillo-Hontz took the "no" out of the state's logo. Fiorillo-Hontz thought the old logo - an ear inside the red circle - was associated with negative icons. The new one she created depicts hands encircling the ear. She wanted it to say something about reaching out and caring. Hands are also a vital way for the deaf to communicate.

"The image of New Jersey is the inner part of the ear, which says where we live," Fiorillo-Hontz wrote in an interview via e-mail. "I created hands around the ears, which we use more than using the ear. I made the shape of the outer part of the ear with the words New Jersey Division of Deaf and Hard of Hearing."

Fiorillo-Hontz, 27, of Kinnelon, learned about the the agency's contest for a new logo online. She entered, and this summer her logo was chosen out of dozens of other entries.

This isn't the first time Fiorillo-Hontz has won a contest with one of her graphic designs. She won four others while attending Gallaudet University - a Washington, D.C., university for the deaf and hard of hearing. She graduated summa cum laude, with a degree in graphic arts. She also met her husband, Travis, there.

"Those five years were the most wonderful experience I ever had ... because I found a place where I can be me. I learned so much from classes and friends. Communication was never a problem for me when I was there," Fiorillo-Hontz wrote.

But she attended public school while growing up in Palisades Park.

"I'm really glad my mother did that, because it helped me learn how to communicate with the hearing. I grew up lip-reading and attended speech classes, which really paid off because I can speak well for a profoundly deaf person," wrote Fiorillo-Hontz, the only deaf child in her family.

Communication became a problem in the seventh grade. Fiorillo-Hontz had to change teachers for almost every class, and it grew harder to read their lips.

"They would tend to forget that I was in the classroom and that they needed to remember to look at me directly," she explained.

She transferred to Midland Park High School, which offered a Secondary Hearing-Impaired Program equipped with note takers and interpreters. She also learned sign language from friends in the program.

She was never interested in art until she took a drawing class in college. All it took was a few weeks, and Fiorillo-Hontz was hooked. Now, she restores and enhances photos at Livingston Camera Mart.

Fiorillo-Hontz has also won prizes from the Northwest Jersey Association of the Deaf, Association of Late Deafened Adults-Garden State, The NJ Grange, and AT&T Relay Services.

She credits the love and support of her family for her success.

"The only tough thing being the only deaf child in the family is during family gatherings," she wrote. "I have a hard time trying to understand what everyone's talking about."

Copyright © 2003 North Jersey Media Group Inc.