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March 20, 2007

Area deaf group fights to be heard

From: - Springfield,MO,USA - Mar 20, 2007

Advocates want to build networks to help out the hearing-impaired.

Sarah Overstreet

Daniel Hanrion, a retired teacher of deaf students, plans to visit a Springfield School Board meeting to share his concerns with individual educational plans for deaf and hard-of-hearing students here.
Tim Lewsader, a deaf sign language teacher, hopes to create a network of resources and services for hearing-impaired people in southwest Missouri — with an emphasis in helping them use their legal rights according to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Samuel Long, a deaf man hoping to find a job to support his wife and three children, wants to unite as many hearing-impaired people as possible to get more services and social activities for the deaf here.

They're all members of a group of local people with severe hearing problems, and they're tired of being unheard.

They met Monday at the Southwest Center for Independent Living, hoping to mobilize themselves and others in the area with hearing problems, and get some guidance and help from the Southwest Center in the bargain.

"There aren't a lot of services for deaf people here," said Lewsader, who has lived in the Kansas City area where there are many more resources.

Those resources include easy access to interpreters, social activities and government agencies that are proactive rather than years too late.

Fellow Deaf Resource Connection of Southwest Missouri group organizer Cindy Lear, an interpreter and co-owner of Associates in Sign Language, said she was troubled by the lack of services and social life for deaf people here when she moved back to Springfield, her hometown.

"When I came back to this community five years ago, so many people had given up," on accessing greater rights and services, said Lear, former director of mental health services for the state of Kansas. "It was like, 'OK, whatever.' Now, it's so good to see people wanting to empower themselves."

Southwest Center for Independent Living employees say they're eager to help hearing-impaired people make gains, too.

The Southwest Center helps disabled people get support with individual living skills, such as home modification and budgeting, assistive technology, information and referral services, and with peer support.

"What we want to do is build partnerships with people like you," said Southwest Center executive director Gary Maddox. "I could use a deaf person on my board of directors."

After Lewsader asked how the deaf group could become a 501 C-3 not-for-profit organization — and thereby legally raise funds — Maddox said the Southwest Center could help.

"We'd be happy to come to some of your meetings," said Southwest Center community outreach worker Marion Trimble.

Southwest Center and Deaf Resource members found other ways they could collaborate and spread a wider net to help the hearing-impaired.

Trimble asked the Deaf Resource group to put together a brochure so the center could distribute it among the eight counties it serves, and Jen Reese of the Southwest Center staff mentioned several staffers would like to learn sign language.

Deaf Resource members eagerly agreed to set up classes at the center.

"If deaf people are already here sometimes, we can draw more deaf people in" (to the Southwest Center), Lewsader said. Part of the problem in getting deaf people together and focused toward a goal is the fact that many tend to be isolated, Deaf Resource members said.

The group agreed to meet again with the Southwest Center staff, and staff members say they're eager to try the new collaboration. Trimble summed it up: "We're all fighting the same fight."

© 2007 Springfield News-Leader.