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April 14, 2004

Unique deaf studies conference comes to UVSC

From: Provo Daily Herald - Provo,UT,USA - Apr 14, 2004

Christi C. Babbitt THE DAILY HERALD

To a hearing person, much of the business during a Utah Valley State College conference Tuesday happened in near silence.

The preferred method of communication was American Sign Language during UVSC's Deaf Studies Today 2004 conference, an event that attracted scholars, business professionals and others from around the world.

The conference is the only one of its type in the country, said Bryan Eldredge, program coordinator for the American Sign Language and Deaf Studies Program at UVSC.

"It's to provide a place for scholars in many different disciplines to exchange ideas, research and thinking on deaf studies," Eldredge said.

The conference continues today; UVSC also will host the USA Deaf Basketball Tournament from Thursday through Saturday.

Conference activities included keynote speakers and presentations on topics including deaf education, cochlear implants and American Sign Language poetry. Participants also could visit vendors' booths featuring products such as American Sign Language instruction books and signalers with flashing lights for the doorbell or telephone.

Gallaudet University, a school for deaf students in Washington, D.C., used to sponsor a deaf studies conference at different locations around the country. Eldredge said UVSC approached Gallaudet about having the conference at UVSC after the college made arrangements to host the national deaf basketball tournament.

After learning that Gallaudet had discontinued its conference, UVSC decided to begin its own, Eldredge said.

"Deaf studies is a broadly interdisciplinary field," Eldredge said. It includes specialists in areas such as linguistics, psychology and anthropology, but those experts usually present papers at national conferences for their particular discipline.

The Deaf Studies Today conference allows all those experts to come together in one place and have an exchange of ideas across disciplines, he said.

Carol A. Padden, a communications professor at the University of California, San Diego, who is deaf, told about her study of an emerging sign language in a small Bedouin community in Israel during the conference. Her presentation was translated into the spoken word.

"I feel that we need a place to exchange ideas, information," Padden said through an interpreter.

UVSC has about 32 deaf students, a high number for a four-year school and more than any other Utah institution of higher education, Eldredge said. The college also has about 315 students studying American Sign Language and involved in deaf studies.

While some deaf students are attracted to UVSC from outside of Utah because they are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, other deaf students come because the college tries hard to accommodate them, he said.

"We see them as an asset to the campus, whereas most campuses around the country, they talk about the 'deaf problem,' " Eldredge said.

Daniel Harnish, a UVSC junior from Hayward, Calif., who is deaf, attended the conference Tuesday. "I wanted to learn many different things about the deaf culture," Harnish said through an interpreter.

A computer engineering major, Harnish said the large number of deaf people and the services offered for the deaf attracted him to UVSC.

Anna Evjen, a UVSC junior majoring in nursing and a hearing volunteer at the conference, said she is taking a beginning American Sign Language class at UVSC. She expects the ability to use the language will help in her medical career.

"If they come into the hospital, then I can help them in that way. ... It's really a skill you can use," she said.

© 2004 Provo Daily Herald