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October 16, 2003

Sign language videos donated to Fremont

From: The Argus, CA - Oct 16, 2003

Collection given

By Jennifer Kho, STAFF WRITER

FREMONT -- What do these three videos -- "Talking Hands," "The Treasure" and "Bummy's Basic Parliamentary Procedure" -- have in common?

All three are in American Sign Language, and all three are part of the new Leo M. Jacobs American Sign Language Collection that will be available starting Friday at the Fremont Main Library.

Working with ASL Access, the Jacobs family and the Fremont Bank Foundation donated the collection to the library in honor of Leo Jacobs, a famous deaf author and teacher from the Bay Area who died in 1998. Library volunteers donated their time to catalog and prepare the collection for circulation.

Barbara Morrison, community education coordinator for California School for the Deaf, said the collection will benefit the whole community, not just the deaf.

"Fremont is a haven for the deaf because we always have a large deaf community living where the school is," she said. "I think this collection gives people the opportunity to learn sign language and to connect with their neighbors, co-workers, relatives and friends. If they can't take classes, they can go to the library and learn."

ASL Access is a nonprofit group that reviews American Sign Language films and puts together updated lists of the top 200, called an ASL Access Collection. It then advocates placing these collections in public libraries for free public use.

Chris Wixtrom, founder and president of ASL Access, said in addition to teaching sign language, the videos also reveal the culture of the deaf community with dramas, comedy, children's stories and poetry originally created in sign language. They also include biographies about deaf people and informational videos about topics from cooking to fire safety.

The collection gives the general public "the opportunity to learn something they know little about and to develop an appreciation for the people who do sign and the wonderful culture they've created," she said.

Sheila Jacobs, one of Leo Jacobs' daughters, said she and her sister, Lisa Jacobs, decided to honor their father with the collection following suggestions from Wixtrom and another friend. Leo Jacobs was very important to Fremont's deaf community, Morrison said.

He was the first deaf teacher in the Oakland public school system and also was a teacher and the first coordinator of community and continuing education for the California School for the Deaf. He helped establish Deaf Awareness Month in California -- which later became Deaf Awareness Week -- and he was a California delegate to the White House Conference on Handicapped Individuals in 1977.

He served on the Gallaudet University Alumni Association for more than 20 years, became the first president of the California School for the Deaf Alumni Association and served as one of the original board members of the Bay Area branch of the Deaf Counseling, Advocacy and Referral Agency.

Jacobs, however, probably is best known as an author. His book, "A Deaf Adult Speaks Out," is a deaf classic describing the deaf community from a deaf educator's point of view.

Fremont Library Manager Angela Yang said she hopes the collection will mark the beginning of partnership between the library and the deaf community.

The library is considering new programs, such as a sign language storytelling program for kids or a reading club for adults. Yang said she is happy any time the library can reach out to more of the community.

"The library has always been a very inclusive place, and this collection is going to make it even more inclusive," she said. "We know we have a very diverse community in Fremont, including our deaf and blind communities, and it feels great to be able to develop closer connections in our community."

Staff writer Jennifer Kho can be reached at (510) 353-7013 or at .

© 2003 The Argus