IM this article to a friend!

April 27, 2006

Bridging the gap

From: Altoona Mirror, PA - Apr 27, 2006

Actor on mission to foster communication between those who hear, those who can’t

By Jennifer Babulsky,

Imagine spending years having to communicate in a language you didn’t understand.

When you spoke a foreign word correctly and were asked to repeat it, think of the difficulty and aggravation in not knowing what you did to speak the word correctly.

For Alfred Corrado, who has been deaf since birth, his childhood and early adulthood were spent trying to fit into a world where he was taught that sign language wasn’t a way to communicate. The only way he was allowed to communicate was trying to speak or read lips.

“I never understood why teachers didn’t want us to use sign language,” 61-year-old Corrado of Altoona said through his interpreter, Betty Jane Neely of Altoona. “They thought if we could speak, we’d improve our English, but it was a real mistake. I tried to read lips but it was very frustrating and rather depressing.”

When he was younger, Corrado was sent to a now-defunct school for the deaf in Pittsburgh where sign language was not used. After many years at the school, Corrado decided to go to Altoona High School where there was no curriculum specifically for him but teachers would offer him extra credit for drawing things.

“Fortunately I passed, but it was low education for me,” he said. “I thought to go to a college in Washington, D.C. (Gallaudet University), but growing up, people told me if you signed, it was like being an animal. My brother said to try college for one year so I took a test and passed and finally I could learn and I was 21.”

While at Gallaudet, which is a university for the deaf and hard of hearing, he majored in theater. He also finally learned American Sign Language, which he said is more visual than sign English, which translates every word spoken. ASL expresses concepts.

“It’s sad because here in America, people think sign language [ASL] is not so wonderful and if you have a deaf teacher like that, it’s so boring and dry,” he said.

After graduating from Gallaudet in 1970, Corrado worked as a set designer for the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and at various tasks at the National Theatre of the Deaf in Waterford, Conn.

In the late 1970s, Corrado met a man named Jean Gremion, a Frenchman who was so impressed with Corrado’s use of ASL that he encouraged Corrado to travel to France to demonstrate ASL.

Corrado took the man’s suggestion and in 1977 created the International Visual Theatre in Paris where he remained for 14 years setting up workshops, writing and directing plays, teaching sign language to the deaf and the hearing and holding lectures for the hearing as to why the deaf prefer to communicate in their own language. His work is mentioned in a French sign language textbook and he was featured in numerous French publications.

In 2002, Corrado was featured in Germion’s book, ‘‘Deaf Planet,’’ which details the creation of the IVT. In September, Corrado will travel to Paris once again where he will perform at IVT’s opening ceremony for the theater’s new location. His dramatic performance will include translating the ‘‘Star Spangled Banner’’ into ASL, a story of a young deaf boy coming to terms with the reality of the sounds of Christmas and even the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

After deciding to move back to the United States in the 1990s, Corrado began teaching ASL and interpreter training at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson. Because of departmental changes, he’s been laid off since April 2005 but is gearing up to enter the classroom again.

Corrado has created three levels of ASL classes, called Space Awareness Communication labs, which will be held at the Fourth Street Church of God in Altoona. An informational meeting will be held at 6 p.m. May 8 in the church’s basement where specific class dates and times will be discussed.

‘‘We really need more interpreters,’’ Corrado said. ‘‘I would like the deaf to have more awareness and have the deaf with the interpreters showing things back and forth in class.’’

In between translating for Corrado, Neely said the man she’s been learning from for the past 10 years has a special gift.

‘‘His heart’s desire is to teach and if people only knew of his work, perhaps they would have a bigger heart toward the deaf and overcome some misconceptions and prejudices,’’ she said.

Mirror Staff Writer Jennifer Babulsky is at 946-7460.

Quick glance at Alfred Corrado

Age: 61

Hometown: Altoona

College education: Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. where he majored in theater

Professional experience: Set designer for Metropolitan Opera in New York City; various tasks at National Theatre of the Deaf in Waterford, Conn.; founder of International Visual Theatre in Paris; instructor at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson until April 2005 and founder of upcoming classes called Space Awareness Communication labs

Goal for classes: Successfully teach both the deaf and the hearing American Sign Language and improve skills of interpreters