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April 15, 2004

UVSC conference helps deaf Utahns

From: Salt Lake City Deseret News - Salt Lake City,UT,USA - Apr 15, 2004

Orem conclave is the first national event of its kind in 3 years

By Jillian Doria Deseret Morning News

OREM — While growing up deaf in California, Sharelle Goff got by in a mostly hearing world using a "pidgin" sign language, a mix of American Sign Language (ASL) and Sign Exact English (SEE).

Her move to Utah brought with it a large dose of culture shock — but not the religious variety usually associated with the Beehive State. What she found was a "deaf culture" that was very different from her California experience. She suddenly found that she was unable to communicate clearly with her deaf student peers.

"It wasn't until I moved to Utah that I realized there was a deaf culture," Goff said through an interpreter. Goff is now an academic adviser for deaf students at Utah Valley State College.

Bryan Eldredge, an ASL and deaf studies program coordinator at UVSC and co-chairman of the Deaf Studies Today Conference that will wrap up today at the school, estimates there are about 250 to 300 deaf adults in Utah County and 32 deaf students attending UVSC, and that is just those who are truly without hearing.

To be deaf with a big "D" means to be involved with the culture and the language of ASL, said David Davenport, 25, speaking through an interpreter. Davenport said there are also a large number with a hearing loss but who relate more to the "hearing" culture. Davenport, who was attending the three-day conference, is deaf and a student at the University of Utah.

"They (people who are deaf) are much more akin to an ethnic group," Eldredge said.

The significant population of deaf people in Utah County made UVSC an ideal place to hold the Deaf Studies Today Conference and the USA Deaf Basketball tournament.

The UVSC event, the first national conference to be held since Galludet University in Washington, D.C., restructured its continuing education program three years ago, is formally titled "Deaf Studies Today: A Kaleidoscope of Knowledge, Learning and Understanding."

Eldredge said he hopes the conference has provided benefits for both the deaf and hearing communities by helping them become more involved. He said the local community lacks diversity.

"This is a kind of diversity we can bring awareness of," Eldredge said.

Eldredge said there have been about 575 participants at the conference that has largely focused on academic disciplines. Among the participants were professors, scholars, parents of deaf children, deaf adults, deaf students and students majoring in ASL.

Other activities featured during the conference included performances by deaf poets, comedians and actors. Starting today, the National Deaf Basketball Association will hold its 60th national tournament in the David O. McKay Events Center. The best players from the tournament will continue to the 2005 Deaf Olympics to be held in Australia. The public is invited to attend.

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© 2004 Deseret News Publishing Company