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April 20, 2004

Social group for deaf working to improve socialization

From: - MI,USA - Apr 19, 2004

By Sara Scott
Assistant Metro Editor

Once a tight-knit community, the deaf and hard of hearing in Jackson have experienced a breakdown in their social network.

That reality -- partly the result of technological advances and the educational mainstreaming of the deaf -- is something a small group of Jackson residents hopes to change.

"For whatever reason, there is very little socializing," said Rebecca Hover of Jackson. "I'm not sure how much interest there is ! but we think it's worth giving it a try."

For starters, Hover, who is deaf, and several others have formed the Signing Friends of Jackson, which organizes monthly social events for the deaf and hard of hearing. They get together to play euchre, eat ice cream and shoot the breeze.

"It helps a lot with the self-esteem," said Aaron Parks, a Jackson native who attended a Signing Friends social Saturday night at the First Church of the Nazarene, 3905 Clinton Road. "It makes you feel less alone ! so you know you are not the only deaf person around."

The deaf and hard of hearing make up a significant portion of the population in Jackson County; 10,474 of the county's 159,665 residents are deaf or hard of hearing, according to a state report compiled from U.S. Census data. Of those, 1,549 are deaf, and 8,925 are hard of hearing. There are roughly 1 million deaf and hard of hearing people in Michigan.

But connecting socially has become more and more difficult -- a situation some attribute to the federally mandated mainstreaming of the deaf in the mid-1970s.

Prior to that, many of the deaf attended a deaf school, a place that often fostered strong connections that lasted lifetimes, Hover said. And while there are pros and cons to mainstreaming, one downside is the reduction in close relationships, Hover said.

For whatever reason, the deaf and hard of hearing in Jackson have been unable to maintain their social network in recent years.

In the early 1980s, the Jackson District Library showed closed-caption movies for the deaf and hard of hearing. But interest waned after just a few years as technology advanced, allowing them to watch such movies in their homes.

In the late 1990s, the Deaf Club of Jackson, which used to organize social events, folded. Parks, who had been involved with the group, said membership numbered at least 50 at one time. But internal politicking and leadership problems plagued the group, and eventually membership started to slide.

"We just didn't have enough attendance," said Parks, who now lives in Kalamazoo. "I'm hoping that this (the Signing Friends' events) is the start of something new."

Hover, a teacher at Jackson High School, is hopeful as well. The first three socials have drawn from 35 to 40 people. Hover's goal is to draw at least 100. The group is taking a break for the summer and plans to resume the events in September.

Already, there has been a strong showing of support from the community. The First Church of the Nazarene, of which Hover is a member, offers the use of its community center free of charge. Several other businesses have donated food or prizes.

"It's all worth it," Hover said. "Because when deaf people get together, they have a great time."

-- Reach Sara Scott at 768-4983 or

© 2004 Jackson Citizen Patriot. Used with permission
Copyright 2004 Michigan Live. All Rights Reserved.