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July 31, 2005

Man's vision becomes reality

From: Lansdale Reporter, PA - Jul 31, 2005

TONY Di DOMIZIO , Staff Writer

LOWER SALFORD – Sometimes our differences can spawn fellowships of similarities. Take‚ for example‚ the grassroots-organized deaf and hard-of-hearing swimming social that happened Saturday afternoon at Harleysville Community Center Pool.

"I had a vision of bringing the deaf and hard-of-hearing community together. It started out with two people a year ago‚ and this year‚ we are getting more people‚" said co-organizer Gregory James‚ of Schwenksville‚ who was surely refreshed from beating Saturday's summer heat.

James‚ who is hard-of-hearing‚ and close to 10 others like him got together at the pool for some camaraderie and cooling off.

It all started simple enough – James and his friend from Telford‚ Dale Alderfer‚ who is visually-impaired in one eye and hard-of-hearing‚ wanted to meet more people in the area like themselves.

They both took to calling newspapers and advertising in publications about the initiatives they are taking to bring the community together.

James organized a picnic not too long ago‚ and two families with deaf and hard-of-hearing children came out.

These families were members of James' church‚ Branch Community Fellowship‚ a church that offers interpretation for the hard-of-hearing.

Nathanael Davis‚ of Hatboro and formerly of Souderton‚ was part of James' crowd Saturday‚ but at the same time he was unlike them.

Davis can hear perfectly fine‚ but works with the deaf and hard-of-hearing at a center in Chester County.

"In my opinion‚ the problem with many deaf and hard-of-hearing is they hide in their houses a lot‚" he said. "They don't meet each other‚ and they don't go out because it's a hearing world."

Most of the people at Saturday's event grew up in the hearing world‚ like Barbara Balandis and Cathy Shaheen

"The group is a great place to meet people that understand the same concerns I have‚" said Balandis‚ of Souderton.

Balandis met Shaheen‚ of Holland‚ Bucks County‚ through the meetings James and Alderfer organized.

Both went through a lot‚ Balandis said. They both went through college‚ they both are single and looking and both work for a living.

They also have cochlear implants‚ which helps to improve their hearing.

This is good for both women‚ who were born hard-of-hearing and started wearing hearing aids at 5 years old.

While a hearing aid amplifies sounds‚ a cochlear implant compensates for the damaged parts of the inner ear‚ Balandis said.

According to the Web site of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders‚ in cochlear implants‚ sound is electronically converted into electrical impulses‚ which are sent to the brain.

A surgeon severs the cochlear nerve and connects it to an implant. The implant is surgically placed under the skin‚ behind the ear‚ the NIDCD said.

The electronic component consists of a microphone‚ a speech processor‚ a transmitter and electrodes.

Balandis and Shaheen got theirs three years ago at The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

An external component that is magnetically attracted to the implant under the skin can be removed‚ and when it is‚ the user is totally deaf‚ Davis said.

"It's frustrating‚" Balandis said. "We face challenges‚ like in using the phone or dealing with people with accents. The cochlear implant helped me a lot."

She said a lot of her frustration disappeared with the implant.

Alderfer‚ who became inflicted with his problem after his mother received a polio shot while she was pregnant‚ continues to be frustrated. He feels lonely sometimes because there are no hard-of-hearing or deaf friends nearby.

"I feel hurt when hearing people don't understand the hard-of-hearing‚" he said. "Sometimes they don't make me heard and they don't understand. I should meet a girl that is caring and understands or a g

irl that is hard-of-hearing."

Sometimes they do get judged over something they can't control.

Other times they have to struggle with the problem‚ like in school‚ when professors would talk with their back turned to the class.

"People think we are handicapped‚ but I don't think that‚" Shaheen said. "I don't feel handicapped."

Balandis wants people to understand the real issue.

"Treat deafness as a communication problem‚ that's the basic thing‚" she said.

Usually‚ "The James Gang" finds themselves at Lans-Bowl for a social.

In fact‚ James and Alderfer have organized an outing at Lans-Bowl Oct. 1.

"I like bowling‚ swimming‚ playing games and miniature golf‚" Alderfer said. "I've also started a group for visual‚ hard-of-hearing and caring people at Indian Valley Public Library."

He said the group meets there Thursdays from April to June‚ and again from October to December for a sort of game night social.

It meets again Oct. 20.

The group will also meet on the links at Garden Golf in Montgomery Township on Aug. 27 at 1 p.m.

For now‚ James and Alderfer will continue to be heard in the community.

"I want to develop plans for the deaf and hard-of-hearing to come out and have fellowship‚" James said‚ who is also learning sign language because he may become totally deaf. "Then we can be a community."

©Reporter 2005