IM this article to a friend!

October 13, 2003

Writer works for deaf community

From: Alameda Times-Star, CA - Oct 13, 2003


RICHARD Medugno was one of the Bay Area's many dot-commers who suddenly found themselves with a whole lot of free time on their hands.

Within the space of five years, he was laid off twice, both times from high-tech start-ups.

"That was hard," says Medugno (an Italian name pronounced meh-DOO-no). "I decided that my next job would be a good one and one where I wouldn't have to sell people on video phones or attend trade shows. I knew it would take a while."

While he searched for gainful employment, the 44-year-old Medugno decided to spend more time with his children. He became more involved in his 12-year-old daughter Miranda's school, the California School for the Deaf in Fremont. And he became a soccer coach for his 14-year-old son Terence's team.

After years of saying he'd get around to them eventually, he also dug out some old writing projects -- plays from his days at the University of California, Irvine, and a massive biography of deaf Canadian politician Gary Malkowski.

Sitting in a Hayward cafe a few blocks from his new job at Await and Find, a secular non-profit that promotes health education for adolescents, Medugno says the writing helped him weather his year of unemployment.

The biography of Malkowski was especially important because it represented an key chapter in Medugno's life.

When the San Diego native fell in love with his future wife Brenda, a Canadian, he moved to Toronto, where both of his children were born.

His daughter was born profoundly deaf, which means she can hear some things like the low rumble of a passing motorcycle.

"Except for seeing 'Children of a Lesser God' I had no experience with deafness," Medugno says. "We began exploring the deaf community in Toronto and enrolled Miranda in a preschool for deaf children and the hearing children of deaf parents."

Miranda began learning sign

language, and so did her parents.

"Baby talk is cute, but when a little kid starts signing ..." Medugno pauses because he's gotten a little teary-eyed. "When they start communicating with you, you just go crazy. It's so great."

Medugno heard of a family down the street with a deaf father who also happened to be a respected member of Parliament.

That turned out to be Malkowski, the first culturally deaf person (meaning he uses sign language instead of speech to communicate) in North America elected to legislative office. The two men became friends.

"I don't think there's a better role model anywhere in the world," Medugno says of Malkowski. "He was so helpful to me because as the parent of a deaf child, you tend to think about all the horrible things that could happen and all the things that child could never be. You give in to the stereotypes sometimes, but then there's Gary doing everything he ever set out to accomplish."

Malkowski came from a working-class background, worked his way through various schools for the deaf and eventually got his master's degree from Gallaudet University, a university for the deaf in Washington, D.C. He was elected to Parliament in 1990, where he served for five years.

Medugno was so impressed with his friend that he proposed writing Malkowski's biography. The result was a 300-page manuscript that took five years to research and write.

Complications with publishers and concern over the fact that Medugno is not a deaf writer have kept the book from being published by the deaf press.

After he and his family moved to Fremont six years ago so Miranda could attend the California School for the Deaf, and after his layoffs, Medugno decided to do something with the biography.

He adapted it into a 32-character play called "Bigger Dreams: A Two-Act Play About Deaf Politician Gary Malkowski." Medugno swallowed his resistance to vanity press and paid for the book to be published by 1st Books, an on-demand publisher that released the play last spring. The play is available online at and

The play has ignited interest in publishing some other Medugno plays, and, at the request of the Gallaudet Press, he has assembled a collection of his essays about being the parent of a deaf child.

"I'm part of a parents of deaf children advocacy organization, and I've written articles about the issues we face," Medugno explains. "Like when a 7-year-old deaf child asks you if you really wanted a deaf child. What do you say? If you say no, you're saying you didn't want that child. If you say yes, she's not really going to believe you. There's no answer that works."

The collection of essays is tentatively titled "Deaf Child, Hearing Father: The First 10 Years."

As Medugno tackles his writing projects with renewed energy, he's also consumed with his new job at Await and Find. Drawing on his experience as a playwright and an actor, he's in charge of something called Peer CHAOS (Combining Health, Arts, Opportunity and Service), a group of teenagers that travels around to middle and high schools performing "Saturday Night Live-type skits about the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases, drugs and alcohol.

The troupe's first performance will be Saturday at the Arrowsmith Academy in Berkeley.

Medugno says getting the show up on its feet has been a challenge, but he's used to that.

"My family and I have been through some tough times," he says, "but I wouldn't have it any other way. We manage. I have always believed that if you go with your gut and go with your heart, things will work out."

©1999-2003 by MediaNews Group, Inc. and ANG Newspapers