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February 2, 2005

Real estate agent aids deaf couples

From: Kansas City Star, MO - Feb 2, 2005

The Kansas City Star

"It is important to me that deaf and hard of hearing have an equal voice in this process."
— Mitch Bartlett

Craig and Tammy Thacker fell on hard times. She lost her job. They got behind on bills. They were looking at possible foreclosure on their Gardner home.

It could happen to anyone, but imagine going through the stress of foreclosure with the added complication that you and your spouse do not speak English.

The Thackers are deaf.

For months they searched for real estate agents to help them sort through their loan situation and sell their house. But no one was willing to put in the time to help the couple, until they found Olathe resident and recent addition to the real estate industry, Mitch Bartlett.

A longtime advocate for the deaf community and 10-year sign language interpreter, Bartlett decided a real estate license would enhance his ability to help deaf and hard-of-hearing people.

He said the Thackers are a prime example of why he is in real estate.

"I don't want deaf people to get taken advantage of because they can't understand a form or they don't have anyone to trust," he said. "When they work with me, I am there to interpret every step of the way — from the loan to the closing."

Lorrie Shank of Shawnee said Bartlett has been a big help. She and her husband, Dale, recently sold their house in Shawnee and are now looking for a larger home in the same city.

"Without Mitch, it would be slower and more (confusing) in what to do," Lorrie, 37, said in an e-mail.

Bartlett's decision to take the leap into real estate came at about the time he and his wife purchased a home in Olathe. It was also about the time when a couple of his friends purchased their own homes.

"I asked them about it, if they liked it," Bartlett said. "They told me they didn't know what they were signing.

"It hit me, maybe that's something I can provide. To be able to explain it to them, so they can have direct communication with the agent. It is important to me that deaf and hard of hearing have an equal voice in this process."

He said real estate is a process that can be as complex as getting through a jungle.

Bartlett's skills in American Sign Language (ASL) diminished the chances for misunderstandings. It also saved time from having to write notes on paper to communicate.

"Also, helped us not to miss any important information while we talk with other people," Lorrie Shank said.

Giving back to the deaf community has always been Bartlett's passion.

For the last 10 years, he has worked as an ASL interpreter. He has been an advocate for deaf people, having been involved with projects such as Deaf Night at the Royals and the Kansas School for the Deaf's D.E.A.F. Sunday. He has helped with interpreting in many settings — businesses, hospitals and school. In September, he served as an interpreter during a George W. Bush rally in Lee's Summit.

His interest in sign language began when he was a senior at Olathe South High School. It was an elective class in sign language. He had no idea the class would "click" with him.

"It's hard to explain," Bartlett, 30, said. "I knew probably within a few months that something clicked. I knew it was something that I would do, somehow, in whatever job I had. It would be part of it."

In his other classes, he said he was a B student, never really applying himself or studying.

But it was different with the signing class.

He remembers working fervently on one sign language project, even spending hours after school every day on it.

"I was a perfectionist with it," he said. "I knew this was what I was supposed to be doing."

Without any deaf or hard-of-hearing people in his family, he couldn't explain his profound interest, which led him to take an interpreter training program at Johnson County Community College after high school.

"I didn't want to become an interpreter. I wanted to be an attorney," he said with a chuckle. "But at that point, I had met some deaf friends in college. And I didn't want to lose my sign language skills."

Today, he has a level five certification in sign language interpretation in Kansas and Missouri.

He works full time for an interpreting agency. He is also an assistant professor at JCCC, teaching in the interpreter training program.

Most recently, in August, he obtained his real estate license. He works with Discover Real Estate in Olathe (

Dale Carrison, a broker manager at Discover Real Estate, said Bartlett, like the other bilingual agents in the office, serves a portion of the Olathe community that sometimes is overlooked. "The thing that's going to be good about Mitch," Carrison said, "he has a lot of empathy for these people."

He said people who have a language barrier sometimes are taken advantage of because sometimes things are not explained to them as clearly.

Lorrie Shank said she has talked to several deaf friends who sold their houses, and they had a hard time getting an interpreter when meeting with real estate agents.

"And some said they missed some important information," she said.

To reach Noemi Herrera, Olathe education reporter, call (816) 234-7729 or send e-mail to

© 2005 Kansas City Star and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.