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August 7, 2004

Man gives deaf civic news

From:, MI - Aug 7, 2004

WSU student monitors Detroit City Council

By Natalie Y. Moore / The Detroit News

DETROIT John Echols rarely misses a day observing the Detroit City Council from the public gallery. He endures the sometimes histrionic and at other times mundane governmental workings of the group.

And its all by choice.

Echols is a student at Wayne County Community College who is deaf and resolute in working with the hearing impaired to explain what is happening in city government.

I want to focus on deaf people who want to become the future, Echols said through his American Sign Language interpreter Krista Conners. In the deaf community, (we) must help and support each other, help with problems in deaf culture.

After council meetings, Echols takes his findings on Detroit city business to a network of interpreters and members of the deaf community. He said he enjoys learning about the politics at the council table, members handling of the budget and financing problems in the city.

The issue in Detroit is if you cant hear, you cant work, but thats not really true, said Echols, a job opportunity advocate.

His long-term goal is to travel around the world and learn signing in other languages.

Echols friends say hes mild-mannered, polite, church-going and is known for creative culinary fare, like his speciality carrot salad with nuts, fruit and marshmallows.

The Detroit-reared Echols says he shuns pity.

Deafness is a positive thing. Deaf people see it as a positive thing, said Echols, who attends school part time. If you change the way you live, you see it from a different perspective. People are afraid to speak because Im deaf.

On the Coleman A. Young Municipal Centers 13th floor, the 28-year-old computer science major is almost as permanent a fixture as council President Maryann Mahaffeys gavel. At council, some staffers have learned basic signing to communicate with Echols.

John loves to communicate and there have been times when John wants to be involved with the hearing and speaking people. And he wants them to learn to communicate with him, said his mother, Pauline Echols. (There have been) times when hes felt left out because they didnt speak back or try to communicate.

Diane Shepard has known Echols since he was a kindergartner. She taught him at the Detroit Day School for the Deaf. There, he was one of her top science students.

After he graduated from eighth grade, the two stayed in touch. Occasionally, Echols returns to his alma mater, volunteering with drug prevention programs.

Hes very good with the kids, Shepard said. He has a good rapport. He sits and talks with the kids and will explain why they shouldnt be doing something.

Unlike a lot of other students with disabilities, Echols had self-esteem ingrained in him, Shepard said. She attributes that quality to his family, which now lives in Warren.

Pauline Echols said the tight-knit family John and his three sisters and father often goes on vacation to amusement parks and horseback riding together.

John Echols spent a year of high school in Washington, D.C., with other deaf students. His mother transferred him to Murray-Wright, a Detroit public high school so he could have a cadre of hearing and nonhearing friends. He graduated in 1995.

I thought it would be best for him. He had interpreters in the classrooms. He hated it at first, Pauline Echols said.

Eventually, he adjusted and the experience solidified his mission to help others.

I have a lot of patience ... and people who write have a lot of patience. People never insult me because theyre afraid.

Copyright © 2004 The Detroit News.