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September 12, 2004

Picnic helps Boise's deaf community bond

From:, ID - Sep 12, 2004

The Idaho Statesman | Edition Date: 09-12-2004

Alex Lundgren won't let her son Brandt grow up thinking he's the only deaf child in Boise.

Brandt will know he's not alone when he looks at pictures his family took over the years at events like Saturday's picnic at Municipal Park. The annual event, sponsored by the Boise Valley Deaf and Hard of Hearing Club, drew about 200 people.

"We did it so he'll know all his life he wasn't alone," Lundgren said. "That we did the best we could. These types of organizations give us so many resources."

Like many parents, Lundgren and her husband knew nothing about deaf culture when their son was born deaf almost 6 years ago, she said.

One of the first things Lundgren learned is that sign-language classes aren't offered through local community education programs. So, she said, she's taking classes at Boise State University and pays hundreds of dollars, she said.

Lundgren now signs even when she's communicating with other hearing people.

Many parents learn sign language by communicating with others in the deaf community, said Cathy Graffuis, president of Deaf Connection, a Boise-based nonprofit group that connects families with resources such as interpreters and other support services.

One of the best things families can do is attend social events like Saturday's picnic, where they can meet others, trade ideas and get encouragement, she said.

"They come here, look around and see families thrive," Graffuis said. "They think, 'This isn't so bad.' This is a big celebration of that."

Boise has the largest deaf community in Idaho, Angel Ramos said.

Ramos became the first deaf superintendent for the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind in Gooding when he was hired in 2001.

He resigned in June after a dispute with the state Board of Education and is now focusing his time on a program he developed called Opti-School, which will let deaf- and hearing-impaired children learn at school or at home over the Internet.

Although it was somewhat quiet during Saturday's picnic, Ramos pointed out that people were having lively conversations everywhere.

"You just can't hear them," he said.

People at the picnic competed for prizes by playing a silent version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" with questions focused on deaf trivia. One woman squealed and shot her hand in the air to answer the question "Who was the first deaf professional baseball player?"

She knew the answer: William Hoy.

The deaf community includes more than just people with hearing impairment, Ramos said. The community also includes family members, interpreters, teachers and others who are all connected.

On average, for every deaf person there are five or six hearing people who are part of their lives, Ramos said.

Lundgren said she was terrified when the family decided to attend their first deaf function when Brandt was about 2 years old. They didn't know what to expect, she said.

Lundgren thought she'd be the only hearing person there. But they quickly found out they weren't alone.

"My son needed to know he's not the only one," Lundgren said. "And you know what? There's nothing wrong with him. He's just deaf. And he knows that. And now I know that, too."

© 2004 The Idaho Statesman