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October 31, 2003

Class connects citizens to deaf community

From: Fond du Lac Reporter, WI - Oct 31, 2003

By Kelly Tucker the reporter

A class that promises to help people both in their private and professional lives has become popular at the Assembly of God, 825 Fond du Lac Ave., in Fond du Lac.

Maria Spoto began teaching the sign language class as a result of much encouragement from her pastor, James Burnette. Although reluctant to initiate the class, she was overwhelmed with the amount of interest the class generated.

In the six weeks that Spoto has been teaching the sign language class, her 22 students have not only gained a sizeable vocabulary but also a deeper appreciation for the deaf culture.

Students range in age and job titles, and many have taken a personal interest in learning the language and in learning to better communicate with the deaf.

Sue Vollmer is an occupational therapist who works with special needs kids in Kewaskum. She said that she is taking the class not only to enrich her life but to enrich the lives of her students.

"In the school district, there are more deaf children than you think," she said. "If you don't communicate with them, you can't get to know them. Deaf children and people are people, too. They're neat, they have feelings, and they make you smile. I am satisfied now that I am able to communicate with members of the deaf community. It would also be nice if I could get a better understanding of deaf culture as well."

Stacy Haase, 28, of Fond du Lac said that there is a possibility that she may become deaf someday and is taking the class so that she will be prepared. If she does become deaf, Haase wants to be able to continue to communicate with those around her.

"I was born 2½ months early. I am completely deaf in my left ear and partially deaf in my right," Haase said, "Every so many years, I do lose some hearing in my right ear, but my left ear can't get any worse. Hopefully, I won't become completely deaf. But even if I don't go completely deaf, I'll continue to use sign language because I know a lot of people who are deaf, and it's a way for us to communicate."

Julie Kuhnz, 23, of Fond du Lac, and a recent UW-Oshkosh graduate, said that her first experiences with the language came from encounters with her deaf friends who would occasionally teach her signs. Now that she has a degree in special education, Kuhnz sees signing as a skill that would aid her in her teaching career.

Instructor Spoto said she wants to reach out to Fond du Lac's deaf community, even though the number of deaf people in the community is small.

"There is a much bigger deaf community in surrounding areas than there is in the Fond du Lac area," Spoto said. "However, because there are deaf people in the community, it saddens me that they would have to go to Oshkosh or Milwaukee to talk to somebody. I wanted to let them know that they don't have to go Milwaukee or Oshkosh — they can have a gathering place right here.

"The people in this class are showing that they have a genuine interest in deaf people. They want to help, and they want to get closer to the deaf community."

Spoto also said that because there are not a lot of interpreters in the area, she is hopeful that the class will get both her students and others interested in interpreting.

The current class ends Dec. 10, and a new class or a continuing class is expected to begin in early January.

Copyright © 2003 Gannett Wisconsin Online.