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October 6, 2003

Center for the deaf and hard of hearing gets a new name

From: Salt Lake Tribune, UT - Oct 6, 2003

By Jacob Santini
The Salt Lake Tribune

TAYLORSVILLE -- A building-renaming ceremony may not seem like the most exciting event.
But the change at Utah's only state-run community center for the deaf and hard of hearing was different. The ceremony, which renamed the building the Robert G. Sanderson Community Center of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, had people excited, even emotional.
Sanderson worked for decades to get funding to establish the center, the first state building in Utah to be named after a deaf person.
"He really is known as the father of deaf services for adults," said Marilyn Call, the director of the state's Division of Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, which operates the center. "It took more than 40 years of lobbying to get a center like this."
Most involved with the center credit Sanderson with much of the lobbying effort.
Sanderson, communicating through a telephone relay service from his home in Roy on Wednesday, said he never imagined such an honor. He acknowledges many others who helped establish and build the center, a process he adds was discouraging at times.
"But in the end the Legislature came through," Sanderson said. "Boy, are we grateful to them."
The name change isn't just a tribute to Sanderson but serves as a symbol that people with hearing impairments can accomplish their dreams, said Lynette Johnson, one of three licensed counselors in Utah who is certified in sign language and an organizer of the renaming event.
"He's 83 years old, but when he's gone the deaf center will continue to stand," Johnson said.
The center has received congratulatory letters over the name change from the National Association of the Deaf and from Gov. Mike Leavitt. The Utah Board of Education, the agency that oversees the Division of Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, approved the change in August.
Sanderson, like many American children of his generation, lost his hearing after contracting spinal meningitis when he was 11 years old. "I entered a new world," he said.
In the 1960s, Sanderson began advocating for a community center for the deaf and hearing impaired.
"Almost always, there was an expressed need where [deaf people] could meet on our own terms for communication and unification," Sanderson said. "Mixing with hearing people in the social setting was not practical because we simply could not communicate on more than a one-on-one basis."
While continuing his work as an advocate, Sanderson earned a doctorate in education from Brigham Young University -- decades before the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, a 1990 measure that required equal access to employment, public transportation, education and health care. Unlike deaf college students of today, Sanderson had to pay for his own interpreter while at school.
By 1983, Sanderson's vision of a community center became reality and as the state bought a former church building in Bountiful. Then, in the early 1990s, lawmakers approved funding to build the existing center at 5709 S. 1500 West, known until now as the Utah Community Center of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
Sanderson, who worked in various business fields, became the first director of the center.
The center has become much more than a social gathering place for the hearing impaired. The division provides classes, such as independent living courses, and case management for people qualified to receive services from the state. The building also has a gymnasium, a lecture hall, a computer classroom and room that technicians use to repair telephone equipment used by the deaf.
Still, Sanderson, who has since retired as the center director, says there is work to do for the next generation of deaf and hearing impaired. Topping his list is improving public education for deaf children.
"More and better trained interpreters are needed in public schools," Sanderson said.

© Copyright 2003, The Salt Lake Tribune.