IM this article to a friend!

May 3, 2004

Clutier mom hopes to improve opportunities for daughters who are deaf

From: Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier, IA - May 3, 2004

By JESSICA MILLER, Courier Staff Writer

CEDAR RAPIDS --- Tina Lynch taps a desk and waves her hands near her face, signaling her students to pay attention.

The class at Kirkwood Community College quiets as students concentrate, watching her hands and expressions. Lynch, a deaf American sign language teacher, tells students the next task will be fun.

Students number off, and the two groups take turns trying to guess what a sign in American sign language might mean in another country. It's not always what the students think.

A sign for candy in America, for instance, means pretty girl in Italy. And nodding your head yes in Bulgaria means no there.

Before the class lets out, Lynch gives an assignment. Go with a classmate to a public place and communicate through signs for two hours, she says.

The 28-year-old expects her students to experience the challenges she hurdles daily.

When sales clerks approach Lynch, they often walk away when they learn she is deaf. Some who don't understand, just repeat themselves more slowly or more loudly, as if somehow Lynch will magically hear them.

It happens more often than not.

Lynch's students reported later it also happened to them. And since they can hear, they heard the rude things people said about them.

It's a common reaction in the Midwest, Lynch signs. In rural communities people are less exposed to people who are deaf.

"People don't know about the deaf community here," she says through an interpreter.

That's something Lynch now has the opportunity to change. She is one of the newest members of the Iowa Commission on the Deaf, appointed by Gov. Tom Vilsack effective this month. The commission oversees and set policy for the Deaf Services Commission of Iowa, a branch of the Human Rights Commission.

Lynch would like to focus on educational issues for the deaf. She has good reason for concern.

Lynch can't hear it, but her house is full of noise.

The cat meows. The phone rings.

Her 13-month-old daughter cries, and a little girl with Shirley Temple curls coos and hums while playing.

Even though Caitlin, 3, has never heard her own voice, she's learned it does attract attention. Her grandmother turns when she hears the noise.

Lynch and her two daughters live with Lynch's parents, Diane and Robert Caloud of Clutier. Lynch and the girls moved in last July because Lynch is going through a divorce and she wanted to be closer to family.

With a duck key chain in her mouth, Caitlin shakes her head back and forth, looking across the table to her mother.

Lynch signs, "Are you going to eat the duck? You are a silly girl."

She uses signs to talk to Caitlin and Mackenzie, but at this age a warm smile or a discouraging look appear just as effective.

Lynch was born deaf, as were her daughters. To the nurses' surprise, Lynch and the girls' father, who is deaf as well, were happy when they learned the news.

"We will speak the same language and have the same culture," Lynch said.

When Lynch is working, the children go to a baby-sitter down the street who knows sign language. Lynch's mother also knows the language and cares for her granddaughters when she can.

Deafness runs in the Caloud family, so they suspected Lynch could not hear.

"My husband and I both accepted it. We wanted to do the best for her," Diane Caloud says.

A doctor told them to teach Lynch sign language, so the family learned the visual language together.

When Lynch reached high school, her mother said she could attend the Iowa School for the Deaf in Council Bluffs, the only such school in the state. Lynch chose to make the move, and it became her second home.

For the first time Lynch says she had access to teachers and students; They all signed. In public schools, she followed in the shadow of her interpreter.

She went on to Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., which offers a college education for people who are deaf. From there she became an American sign language teacher at Illinois colleges. She later joined the faculty at Kirkwood in the interpreter training program so she could be closer to her family.

Her deaf education helped her find herself, Lynch says.

"I completely fell in love with the deaf culture. I was known as Tina, not as a deaf person," Lynch signs.

She wants the same for her daughters, but she would like them closer to home. She is on a committee that is in the early stages of setting up a charter school in the area for deaf and hearing children. Deaf students would have the option of taking speech training as an elective course.

A majority of deaf students are pulled out of classes to learn how to speak, Lynch says, when they should be learning about other subjects. That means many deaf people graduate high school and end up working in factories because their education focused on speech training instead of job training.

"I am worried about my daughters," Lynch says. "If they want to learn how to speak that's fine."

Lynch says she was pulled from classes.

"Now I am not very good at math," she says, adding she has never used her voice.

Even in beginning sing language classes Lynch never uses an interpreter. When students' faces go blank, she writes on the board.

Back in the classroom, Lynch uses a presentation to test her students' abilities at identifying a finger-spelled word. Students write their answers on slips of paper and pass them to the front, where she counts them and works to figure a percentage.

"I have to get a calculator," she signs and walks into her office.

Just 67 percent of the class answer correctly. She encourages them to do better.

Lynch is the only full-time deaf instructor at Kirkwood. Her experience adds to the program, says Linda Krog, coordinator of the America sign language interpreter training program.

"Her expertise is invaluable," Krog says.

Lynch will take some of that knowledge with her to Des Moines soon. Her first commission meeting is this month.

"I would like to see where the commission is at," she says. "I would love to see improvements in deaf programs."

© The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier 2003