IM this article to a friend!

December 17, 2003

Progressing in silence

From: Mount Shasta Herald, CA - Dec 17, 2003

By Paul Boerger

Joseph Mort, a deaf student at College of the Siskiyous in Weed, uses American Sign Language to say, "I'm happy." Mort attends college with the aid of a signing interpreter.

It's OK being deaf; it's quiet," Joseph Mort says when asked to describe being unable to hear. A student at College of the Siskiyous in Weed, Mort is taking business classes with the aid of a COS assigned interpreter.

He doesn't "say" anything, but conveys his message silently through American Sign Language, the universal language used by the deaf in the United States.

ASL, Mort's voice, is more than just hand signs. His facial expressions, eye movements and hand emphasis convey as much emotion and nuance as sound inflection.

The 39 year old Mort discusses his life through an interpreter, ASL College of the Siskiyous instructor Camille Johnson.

Conversations between Johnson and Mort are as fast, if not faster than verbal communication. Single signs can convey a lot in ASL.

"I feel really accepted at COS," Mort says. "I'm making friends and enjoying it."

Mort started at COS in September of 2000, after a lifetime of washing dishes.

"It was the only job people would give me," Mort said. "I looked, I looked."

Mort often signs things twice for emphasis in place of voice inflection.

He was a deaf child of hearing parents and was sent to the California School for the Deaf at age 4.

"I wasn't allowed to go home for a visit for four years," Mort said. "I was very sad and cried a lot."

The philosophy at the time was to completely immerse children in ASL without inference from the hearing world.

Johnson says that philosophy has changed somewhat in today's society, with far more parental involvement than in the past.

From age 4 to 8, Mort was allowed a one-hour visit with his parents twice a year, on his birthday and Christmas.

Johnson's eyes and those

of several ASL students who are partaking in the conversation glisten with tears as she translates.

"Can you imagine sending your child away like that?" Johnson says.

At age 8, Mort's visits home began to coincide with the school year - two weeks at Christmas and 3 1/2 months during the summer.

Mort's eyes light up and he smiles as he explains the summer schedule.

His parents, however, were not immersed in ASL, and their knowledge of signing was limited at best.

"My mother learned a little," Mort said. "My father didn't learn much. He was in the Navy and was very busy."

No matter that Mort couldn't talk with his parents as much as he would have liked. Their deaths were a great personal and support loss.

"My mother died when I was 15, my father when I was 21," Mort said. "It's hard for me with them being gone."

At age 18, Mort returned home from CFD. With a twisted expression, he says he doesn't want to talk about what happened.

At 20 years old, he got his first job as a dishwasher.

"I looked around, looked around," Mort said, "but no one would hire me for anything else."

"I had many jobs after that," Mort said. "I kept getting laid off, laid off."

Mort was working as a dishwasher in Yreka when he went into Personnel Preference employment agency in Weed.

"He wandered in and didn't know what to do with his life," said employment counselor Debbie Tosie. "I knew about the COS program for the deaf and got him going in that direction."

Tosie has nothing but praise for Mort.

"He's an exceptional guy," Tosie said. "Finding a resource available made him so happy."

Mort beams as he talks of his contacts with Tosie and his hopes of getting an office job when he finishes his business studies.

COS has been a positive life changing experience for Mort.

"The business English is hard," Mort says.

Johnson explains that for the deaf, written English is like a foreign language. Aside from the obvious difficulty of deafness, the deaf have tremendous difficulties adjusting to the written word.

"I try, I try," Mort says, "but I keep making mistakes. I'm not going to give up."

Mort's message to the hearing world is "don't take advantage of a deaf person."

"If they ask for help, be patient," Mort says. "People can be very rude."

Johnson asks Mort one last time how it feels to be deaf.

"I'm happy," Mort says. "It's quiet."

-- Next week, the reporter experiences being deaf for a day.

Copyright © 2003 Mt. Shasta News. All rights reserved.