IM this article to a friend!

September 27, 2003

DEAF have voice at hospital fair

From: NapaNet Daily News, CA - Sept 27, 2003

Register Staff Writer

The painting was simple, the message was clear.

A life-size woman, with a raised fist and one hand over her ear, stood above the words, "Deaf Liberty." The artist was Michelle, a deaf patient at Napa State Hospital.

The art hung in a gym at the hospital's McGrath School Thursday, at NSH's first ever health fair honoring Deaf Awareness Week.

"The people in the hospital, the staff, need to be educated so they can learn about deaf culture, deaf history," said registered nurse Karen Wills-Pendley.

Deaf Awareness Week, celebrated the last week of September, was initiated by the National Association for the Deaf to honor deaf culture, heritage and language, said hospital spokeswoman Lupe Rincon. NSH is the only California state hospital that offers psychiatric services to adult deaf patients who are civilly committed, meaning they have not been court-ordered to be there.

"Deaf people have a lot of interesting things to talk about," said Rondal, one of the 13 deaf patients at the hospital, through an interpreter. Rondal explained that deaf college students are organizing and demonstrating, and said it's important that people with hearing understand the deaf have a culture, just like any other group.

Barbara Morrison, community education coordinator for the California School of the Deaf in Fremont, signed to the crowd about growing up deaf, her struggles to speak and read lips and the liberation she felt when she decided to use American Sign Language, known as ASL, as her primary means of communication.

"I was born deaf and I've got a really positive attitude about being deaf and I think that's really the key for all deaf people and for all deaf children around the nation ... to have this positive attitude, to get involved with signing and deafness and the deaf culture and history," Morrison said through an interpreter.

"Then in 1960, as a teenager ... you know, 1960 wasn't really a time to be celebrating deafness and there really wasn't much information out in the world about people being deaf, especially in the community that I lived in, in South Dakota. So I would go out in the community and start signing away and people would stop and kind of snicker at us and laugh ... and feeling that oppression just didn't help at all for us. And the School of the Deaf at the time was telling us we were supposed to be using 'total communication.' That means talking, using your voice and signing at the same time. And I thought, 'Me? I'm not hearing. I can't do that!' But in order to satisfy the parents we had to go ahead and do this.

"Then in 1988, when they had the 'Deaf President Now' movement, that changed everything, and it changed overnight. Deaf people all over the United States were proud to be using ASL, they turned off their voices, closed their mouths, went out and started signing."

© 2003, Pulitzer Newspapers, Inc.