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February 14, 2004

Deaf services reach all ages

From: Fergus Falls Daily Journal - Fergus Falls,MN,USA - Feb 14, 2004

By Lucien Holmes

If a deaf woman was among the most qualified applicants at your company, would you hire her? Would you be comfortable selling a car insurance policy to a deaf man? If your son brought home a deaf girlfriend, would you distort your lips when you talked to her? Or holler at her over the dinner table? Marcia Shutt, consultant with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Division housed at the Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center, said these are not problems of the past; they are among the very real challenges that the deaf and hard of hearing still face today. These types of behaviors are not necessarily outright discrimination, they simply describe what happens when we are faced with the unfamiliar.

"We've come a long way, but there's a long way still to go," said Shutt.

They distribute telephones, sound amplifiers, other equipment and information to consumers, which includes both businesses and the hard of hearing.

The operation is overseen by regional manager Carol Mermon.

"We don't just cater to the elderly, which is a common misconception: it's 'womb-to-tomb,'" said Mermon.

In recent years, legislative initiatives for mandatory screening for newborns in Minnesota hospitals have pushed the percentage of babies now checked for hearing loss to 98. Babies born with a hearing defect now must have costs associated with their disability covered by insurance policies. And given what Mermon calls "greater urban parity for the hard of hearing," advocates have renewed their mission to provide services to more rural areas.

Some of the greatest success has come with intervention, most notably the deaf mentor program.

"It helps teach families how to expose themselves to speech and language," said Shutt. "With the pressures already on them, parents of a deaf child can find an older deaf person, a mentor, who comes into the home and teaches the whole family."

Copyright © 2004 Fergus Falls Newspapers Inc. All rights reserved.