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March 20, 2006

Bonnie Funk bridges gap between hearing and deaf communities

From: Nashville City Paper, TN - Mar 20, 2006

By Alexa Hinton,
March 20, 2006

Growing up as a hearing child with two deaf parents, Bonnie Funk naturally played the role of interpreter.

“I really didn’t see it as anymore of a burden than when you say to a child, ‘Go load the dishwasher,’ It was simply something else to do,” Funk said. “Like any child, you just want to be playing.”

Years later as a young adult, the childhood chore gave Funk a solution to her career indecision. A family friend suggested becoming a professional interpreter, an option she had never considered, Funk said.

“Then I thought, ‘This is who I am, this is what I do’ and the fact that I could do it for a living was just a bonus,” Funk said. “My job feels like working with family. I grew up in the deaf community and I get that out of my every day profession.”

Funk began her career in the Canton, Ohio, school system as an educational interpreter. For the past 11 years she has been the vice president of interpreting services for Nashville’s League for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

March 13-April 15 is designated as Deaf Awareness month, and Funk says now is the time to educate yourself on deaf culture and history.

“My upbringing made me a little more sensitive and culturally aware of people and their differences,” Funk said. “My dream is that someday there is no gap between the deaf and hearing communities — no language barriers or misconceptions — that both completely understand each other.”

Explain your job at the League for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
We provide interpreting services to 16 counties in Middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky, so I serve as the primary liaison between the deaf and hearing communities. I go out into the hearing community, places of employment, schools and give deaf awareness and deaf culture issues lessons. I am working with the Clarksville Police Department to educate them about what to expect whether the deaf person is a victim or gets arrested.

What are some examples of deaf culture issues?
Cultural issues are like when a deaf person is utilizing an interpreter, to speak directly to the deaf person, not through the interpreter. Understanding technology devices that deaf people use. Like for us, an alarm clock rings. For deaf people, it’s a vibrating alarm clock, which is a little device that they put under the pillow or mattress that vibrates the bed.

What advice do you have for the hearing community?To know that deaf people, except that they can’t talk orally or hear, are just like hearing people. You have deaf folks that are poverty stricken and wealthy; well-educated and not. They represent all walks of life, just like the hearing community.

What is your proudest moment working for the League? There was a deaf elderly couple. He was deaf and blind and she was deaf. Because of their age, they needed to go into assisted living. I was able to get them hooked up with services in their home state, tied back up to family members, worked with their family to find the best placement place. We helped sell their house; got deaf volunteers to help with painting and cleaning it. All of us worked so hard on that situation for so many months. When it was resolved and they were healthy and happy, it was quite a rewarding accomplishment.

Is there an anecdote you remember from your childhood growing up with deaf parents?
When I went over to my friends’ houses to play, we’d have to keep the noise down, but that was never an issue at my house. We could have the TV or music as loud as we wanted.

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