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November 6, 2005

DeafNation Expo brings together longtime friends

From: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle - Rochester,NY,USA - Nov 6, 2005

Greg Livadas
Staff writer

(November 6, 2005) — A trade show Saturday at the Dome Center in Henrietta drew more than 3,000 visitors, but the latest technologies, agencies and services that aid the deaf and hard of hearing weren't the only reason people came.

They also came to celebrate their deafness and socialize.

"I finished looking around. Now I'm here to chat," said Greg Kevorkian, 37, of Toronto, after 3½ hours at the DeafNation Expo. A graduate of Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., Kevorkian said he was surprised to see his former college roommate at the trade show.

"He lives in Florida and I haven't seen him in 15 years," he said.

Nearly 70 vendors promoting everything from Himalayan health drinks and deaf cruises to churches and interpreting services greeted the visitors. Face painting and children's games were available.

Most vendors offered free literature, candy, pens, key chains or other souvenirs.

"We're offering free samples," said Alrene Hsieh Sankey, 38, of Brighton, a beauty consultant for Mary Kay Cosmetics. Using sign language, visitors to her booth knew she, too, was deaf and could easily communicate with them.

Gary Meyer, 48, an insurance agent from Pittsford, was there to let motorists know there was a "deaf-friendly" insurance company in town.

"It's all about communication, being able to communicate to your customers," said Meyer, who was representing

He said about 90 percent of his customers have a hearing loss, and most of them said they had no contact with their previous insurance agents.

This is the first time DeafNation, based in Maryland, has hosted an exposition in Rochester in the three years it has been holding them.

Admission was free and plans are already in the works to return to Rochester next November, said Joel Barish, DeafNation's chief executive.

He said the most popular booths typically are of the companies offering video relay services, which allow the deaf to make telephone calls using sign language to hearing people via Webcams, their computers and an interpreter.

Cameron Tingey, a regional sales director for one video relay service, Sorenson Communications in Salt Lake City, said interest was strong, mostly from those who already have the service and wanted to know about additional features.

At the Northeast Deaf Recreation booth, Dean DeRusso, 35, of Rochester, collected four pages of names and e-mails of people who wanted more information about the club, which holds frequent social and recreational events. The club is open to anyone, whether they are deaf, hard of hearing or hearing.

"We have been helping many hearing people feel comfortable meeting deaf people for 18 years," he said.

DeRusso said the $250 fee for renting the space "was worth it. We met a lot of people."

Students from Rochester School for the Deaf sold raffle tickets to raise money for 20 students to visit Italy in April.

Several deaf-owned businesses were selling items such as shirts with the "I Love You" hand sign printed on them, or stained glass creations with the letters CODA, which stand for "children of deaf adults."

Geoff Poor, associate professor of American Sign Language at Rochester Institute of Technology's National Technical Institute for the Deaf, said sales were good of a CD he made showing the signs for 2,700 words.

Eight boxes of bottled water and 100 headbands were quickly handed out by Kathy Romeo, 38, of North Grafton, Mass., who was representing Cochlear America, a company that makes cochlear implants.

Romeo, a 1991 NTID graduate, said attitudes about the once-controversial implants that allow some deaf people to hear have changed over the years. The surgery used to be considered barbaric. Now, the implants are regarded more as something akin to a powerful hearing aid.

"Most people are afraid they're going to lose their friends and their environment if they have this," Romeo said. "They are not going to lose that. You are what you are."

Several discussions and workshops took place during the day, including a progress report on a deaf senior housing project in Rochester. And there were plenty of door prizes.

Groups of people hugged, positioned their chairs in circles and talked for hours.

Molly Allis of Buffalo left the dome after six hours. She carried a helium-filled balloon and three bags, some filled with free samples, others of things she had purchased, including a flashing light for her video phone. "I saw some old friends, too," she said. "It was worth it."

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