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May 2, 2004

DeafNation Expo promotes camaraderie and products

From: Indianapolis Star, IN - May 2, 2004

More than 4,000 meet old friends, learn about new technology, services at event.

By Diana Penner
May 2, 2004

Bailey Murphy, 4, and her 19-month-old brother, Aiden, are growing up bilingual. They speak English, and they use their hands for American Sign Language.

So it didn't matter who was speaking or how they communicated Saturday at the DeafNation Expo at the Indiana State Fairgrounds -- Aiden and Bailey could follow it all.

Few people feel comfortable in both worlds the way the red-headed siblings do. For the deaf and hard of hearing, Saturday's convention offered a rare chance to be in the majority at a large gathering, one not dominated by those who rely on vocal cords and ears to communicate.

Fingers fluttered and hands danced in animated greetings as more than 4,000 people, most of them deaf, converged on the Marsh Agriculture and Horticulture Building. Dozens of exhibitors showed off products and services designed for the deaf or by the deaf.

DeafNation, a for-profit company run by brothers Joel, 35, and Jed Barish, 33, is taking its show on the road for a 93-day, 60-city traveling event that's part carnival, part family reunion and part peddler's market.

"I feel like it's family here," Kim Murphy, mom to Aiden and Bailey, said through sign language interpreter Evelyn Thompson of Plainfield. She and her husband, Barry Murphy, brought the kids to the event as the doors opened at 9 a.m. and planned to be there most of the day.

Barry Murphy took the opportunity to check out new technology. Offering a one-stop shopping venue for new technology is one of the event's missions, said Greg Gantt, senior account manager for Sprint in Indianapolis. Sprint is one of the Expo's main national sponsors.

Sprint provides relay services for audio phone users. Deaf callers type their comments, which are relayed verbally by an interpreter to a hearing caller. The same process works in reverse when deaf people receive calls. Among the innovations in that arena is video relay, Gantt said through interpreter Thompson. With video relay, the deaf person signs into a camera, which sends a video feed to an interpreter who translates sign language into spoken words for a hearing caller.

Internet relay services also are emerging, he said. In coming years, voice recognition software like that available for computers, could allow people to speak into a phone and have it translated into written text for a deaf caller on the other end.

"Eventually, but that's down the road," Gantt said.

Iva Slater, of Brownsburg, has seen technology leap several generations. A 1942 graduate of the Indiana School for the Deaf, 80-year-old Slater said TTY services, using typewriterlike devices that allow deaf people to communicate over telephone lines by typing messages via a display screen, were a big advance. There's one she uses even more now -- e-mail.

"That's really nice," she said through interpreter Lisa Moster, also of Brownsburg. Slater's five children all know sign language fluently, her seven grandchildren know a little, but the four great-grandchildren haven't learned to speak with their hands.

Slater went to the Expo with one friend, but she was running into old friends at every turn.

"People I haven't seen in a long time," she said, smiling.

Some showed up to catch up with old friends and to meet new ones.

Edmond White, 23, Indianapolis, and his girlfriend, Elizabeth Neal, 20, brought their 7-month-old daughter, Nakita, to the expo. White is deaf. Neal is hard of hearing, and Nakita, her dad said, is hearing.

"It's a national deaf event. It's a big deal," White said of the expo, through Moster. "I wanted to meet new people, see my old friends . . . just hang out."

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