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October 5, 2004

Center for deaf opens in city

From: The Western Front, WA - Oct 5, 2004

By Laura McVicker
October 05, 2004

Additional services to the deaf and hard of hearing, which make up more than 13,000 people in Whatcom County, will become available with the opening of a new center in downtown Bellingham.

The Hearing Speech and Deafness Center in Seattle will extend its service to Whatcom, Skagit and San Juan counties, by opening an office in Bellingham, located on Magnolia Street, said Joel Bergsbaken, community advocate for the Bellingham center. The office opened Monday.

The center in Seattle offers agencies that assist deaf individuals in communicating with others in the community, such as speech therapy services, audiology, classes, programs teaching parents how to work with deaf children and a retail store, said James Christianson Jr., client advocate for the Bellingham center.

The Bellingham branch will offer advocacy for the deaf in areas of their everyday lives, such as assisting them in their interaction with businesses and doctors, Bergsbaken said.

He said that because the Bellingham branch recently opened, however, the center has not yet specifically mapped out the entire spectrum of its services.

"With the HSDC, they are really wanting to listen to what the community needs," he said. "We aren't defining our services yet."

Susie Burdick, chief executive officer of the Seattle branch, said she hopes to have a better knowledge of how the center will aid the community through feedback from future clients who use the services.

Christianson said he wants to have the same amount of services available at the Bellingham office as at the Seattle office.

"They have six programs in Seattle. Here we just have two," he said. "I hope to expand that here."

Burdick said the center signed a contract with the Office for Deaf and Hard of Hearing, a division of the Department of Health and Social Services, on Sept. 29. This contract enables them to provide service to others free of charge, she said.

Another aspect of the Bellingham center's services will be assisting the deaf through a system called "video relay," which allows them to communicate over long distances with others who are deaf, Bergsbaken said.

In video relay, a person who is deaf is able to use sign language to communicate with another person projected on a screen via the Internet.

A deaf person also is able to communicate with a hearing person through an interpreter on the screen.

Clients of the center can come to the office and use video relay free of charge, she said.

© 2004 The Western Front