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October 12, 2003

County deaf expo not a quiet affair

From: Tri-Valley Herald, CA - Oct 12, 2003

Hundreds from around Bay Area share in

By Jeanine Benca, STAFF WRITER

PLEASANTON -- If you spent any time at the Alameda County Fairgrounds on Saturday, you may have shared this sheepish revelation -- deaf people are not quiet.

A giant room packed with computer, art and book vendors, food stations, a theater, electronic equipment and hundreds of visitors can't help but make some noise, even if the vast majority of the crowd is using sign language.

For the non-hearing-impaired who have no deaf friends or relatives, an afternoon at the DeafNation Expo -- where hundreds from around the Bay Area converged this weekend -- is an eye-opening experience.

Amid babies crying and occa-sional bursts of laughter, an overwhelming cacophony of "signed" conversations flourish when members of the deaf community get together.

Awe turns to awkwardness when you realize you're the only one in the room who doesn't speak the language.

Barbara Goodeill of the Deaf Counseling, Advocacy and Referral Agency, or DCARA, is sympathetic.

"I'm constantly asking people to 'say it again,' or 'say it more slowly,'" admitted Goodeill, who has been versed in sign language for six years.

Her work consists of helping hearing-impaired residents find jobs.

Well-known in the deaf community, DCARA provides interpreters such as Goodeill when clients receive job interviews.

She utilized her skill Saturday, introducing DCARA director Kay Tyhurst to "sign-challenged" patrons who were curious about the organization.

Through Goodeill, Tyhurst explained DCARA's objective -- to help employ as many qualified members of the deaf community as possible.

Offices providing career counseling and other services are set up in Fremont, Campbell, San Francisco, Oakland and Santa Rosa, Tyhurst said.

Goodeill, who studied sign language for two years in college, says her work is both challenging and fulfilling.

Frequently, she encounters families who are struggling to communicate with their deaf child.

Another scenario, more com- mon than people realize, is a "hearing child" in a "deaf household."

"When both parents are deaf, the child just learns sign language. Then he learns to speak in school."

That situation is easier, says Goodeill, because kids are more versatile and able to learn new languages faster than adults.

Another challenge is the constant evolution of sign language.

"New signs are always popping up," Goodeill pointed out.

The latest?

"We never had a sign for Arnold Schwarzenegger before," she laughed.

Most proper names are "finger-spelled," meaning each letter is signed out.

But few would attempt such a feat with the governor-elect's last name.

The sign that has become universally accepted over the past few months is an emphatic "A" for Arnold, followed by "big muscles."

Other companies offering the latest in wireless and computer technology for deaf clients set up booths at the expo.

The event, which also featured a traveling network of musicians, comedians and magi-cians, drew a large crowd from Foothill High School.

"Our teacher wanted us to come down here and sort of immerse ourselves in their culture," said ninth-grader Kayla Zampa of Pleasanton. She and friend Mike Gellman are enrolled in first-year sign language courses.

Recently, the University of California system broadened its two-year high school language requirement to include sign language.

"My teacher is deaf," said Gellman. "She encourages us to go to these types of events."

Zampa described her experience Saturday as both difficult and invigorating.

"It's frustrating -- talking to (deaf people) and they don't really understand what you're saying. And it's the same thing. You walk into a room and they're all talking in sign language and you don't understand them."

"My friend's younger brother is deaf," Gellman added thoughtfully.

"I took sign language because I always wanted to communicate with him."

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