IM this article to a friend!

September 18, 2004

Deaf call on public to be aware

From: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, NY - Sep 18, 2004

Week of activities will focus attention on 'a proud culture.'

Greg Livadas Staff writer

In Rochester, regarded as a community with one of the largest deaf populations in the country, you won't have to search hard to see people using sign language in a mall, car or restaurant.

These neighbors speak gracefully with their hands and facial expressions and live otherwise normal lives. But unless you personally know someone who is deaf, it's easy to make assumptions.

In an effort to educate hearing people about the local deaf community and deaf culture, Deaf Awareness Week begins Sunday. Seven days of activities are planned, including art gallery tours in sign language, book signings, lunchtime lectures, a crash course in sign language and library exhibits involving deaf heritage and culture.

"We hope to help hearing people realize that our deafness is not a medical condition," said chairman Matthew Starr. "We are a proud, deaf culture. We share a heritage and a language."

Deaf Awareness Week, held biennially, also gives the area's diverse deaf community a reason to come together and celebrate.

Most events are free and are planned to encourage those with little or no knowledge of deafness to attend.

Some events reach out to deaf youth in mainstreamed schools to come together in activities that are fun and allow them to meet others like them.

All events will be voiced and interpreted.

The biggest event is Sunday's free kickoff at the Memorial Art Gallery, where numerous exhibits and displays from community groups serving and showcasing the deaf are expected, as well as local dignitaries.

Starr, 48, program director of the Health Association's Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program, came to Rochester from New York City in 1974 as a student at Rochester Institute of Technology's National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

This year, nearly 1,150 deaf and hard-of-hearing students attend the school.

In the 30 years Starr has been in Rochester, he's seen more and more people enroll in sign language classes. He has also seen some changes in the attitudes that hearing people have about deaf people.

"There are people who are open-minded, willing to slow down a little bit to communicate with us," Starr said. "And there are other people who have no patience and are not willing to work with us. I see more of the positive, but there still is some negative."

One continuing problem, Starr says, is the lack of understanding or patience hearing people have when using a telephone relay service, which allows the deaf to converse with hearing people via typed messages.

Many hearing people simply hang up when they receive a relay call, thinking it's a telemarketer, Starr said.

An open house is planned Monday at Rochester Video Relay Service in Henrietta, one of nine such centers in the nation that allows a deaf person using sign language in front of a Web cam to be connected to voice callers on the telephone via an interpreter.

And on Thursday, an hour-long review of the traditional relay service — connecting a traditional telephone user to a text telephone user — will be offered to the public.

Another featured event is Wednesday, when former Gallaudet University professor Deborah Sonnenstrahl, of Boynton Beach, Fla. will give a lecture at the Memorial Art Gallery.

She authored Deaf Artists in America: From Colonial to Contemporary, and will be available for a book signing and reception.

Susan Demers Postlethwait, deaf services coordinator for the Regional Center for Independent Living, the organizational sponsor of Deaf Awareness Week, started helping to plan the events about a year ago and came up with this year's theme: "Deafinitely Rochester!" About 30 volunteers are on the organizing committee.

"Bringing deaf and hearing people together by overcoming language barriers is something we hope to accomplish during Deaf Awareness Week and for years to come," she said.

"This is our opportunity to educate the general public on what the Deaf community has to offer.

Moreover, Deaf Awareness Week is a good time for deaf, hard of hearing and hearing people to unite and celebrate and appreciate deaf culture."

Deaf Awareness Week
All events and free and open to the public unless otherwise noted:

• Kickoff event at the Memorial Art Gallery, 500 University Ave., noon to 5 p.m., with a guided tour in sign language (with voice interpreting for the hearing) at 2:30 p.m. Tours: $1.

• "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About ASL, But Were Afraid to Sign," informal introduction to sign language for children and adults, Chili Public Library, 3333 Chili Ave.; 1 to 4 p.m.
• Rochester Video Relay Service Open House, 125 Tech Park Drive, near John Street and Bailey Road, Henrietta, 6 to 8 p.m.

• Workshop, "Diversity Within the Deaf Community," The Health Association, 1 Mt. Hope Ave., noon to 1 p.m. Free.
• Deaf Youth Art Exhibit, Dyer Arts Center at NTID Lyndon Baines Johnson Building, 52 Lomb Memorial Drive, RIT campus, 1 to 3 p.m.
• "The Deaf Community: Where Have We Been, Where Are We Now and Where Are We Going?" Rita Straubhaar, a deaf history narrator from Monroe Community College, will describe the factors influencing the evolution process of the American Deaf Culture, Fairport Public Library, 1 Village Landing, 6 to 8 p.m.

• Deaf Storytelling, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 3349 Monroe Ave., Pittsford, 9:30 to 11 a.m.
• Deaf Elders Around Rochester 30th Anniversary Open House, 1564 Lyell Ave., 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
• Lecture & Book Signing, Deborah M. Sonnenstrahl, Deaf Artists in America, Memorial Art Gallery, 500 University Ave.; 7 to 9:30 p.m. Admission: $7 for adults, $5 for students and seniors, $2 for children 6 to 18; free for children younger than 6.

• "Discover an Untapped Resource: Working with Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing People," for agency executives, managers, co-workers, human resources personnel, and anyone who wants to learn more about working with deaf and hard-of-hearing colleagues, noon to 1 p.m.; and "Connect to Your Future," explanation of telephone relay service, 1 to 2 p.m.; both at The Health Association, 1 Mt. Hope Ave.

• Deaf Awareness Day at Strong Museum, variety of participatory activities for families with young children to appreciate deaf culture, including interpreted songs and performances by children from Rochester School for the Deaf and School No. 1, 1 Manhattan Square, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission: $7 for adults; $6 for seniors and students; $5 for children 2 to 17; children younger than 2 are admitted free.
• Mad Hatter's Gala, Rochester Recreation Club for the Deaf, 1545 Lyell Ave.; 7 p.m. to closing. Admission: $5 with a hat, $7 without a hat.

Sat., Sept. 25
• Deaf Youth Activity Event, hosted by Greater Rochester Area Parents and Educators Network, Horizon Skateway, 675 Ling Road, Greece, 1 to 3 p.m. Admission: $4.75 for skate rental or $8.75 for in-line skate rental.
• Deaf Awards Banquet, Holiday Inn Airport, 911 Brooks Ave., 5 to 10 p.m. Tickets $30, available at Sunday's kickoff event (none sold at the door).

On the Web
For a detailed list of Deaf Awareness Week events, visit:

Copyright 2004 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.