Radio Show: DeafConnect

DeafConnect - Connecting the Deaf, Deaf-Blind, and Hard of Hearing Community to the Memphis Metropolitan Area. There are more than 100,000 individuals with hearing loss in Shelby County and more than 750,000 across Tennessee.

Deafness is the third most common disability in the world, although deaf people in general don't consider their hearing loss a problem that should be fixed. Instead they experience life like the rest of us - with friends, families, challenges and successes. Deaf individuals may communicate differently, but they have the same hopes and dreams we all do.

There are four categories within the Big-D Deaf community: those who are deaf (those with complete hearing loss), hard of hearing, deaf-blind and late-deafened (those who lose hearing later in life).

It's important for people in the business community to understand that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires businesses to provide interpreting services for people who request them. Under the ADA, the business must cover the cost for the interpreter. Businesses and individuals can call DeafConnect to schedule qualified interpreters.

What DeafConnect does - In addition to interpreting services, we advocate for the Deaf community, we host programs and classes to educate the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and we build community and awareness by holding a number of events each year.

Earlier this month we hosted deaf awareness training with the Shelby County Sheriff's new recruits - something we do with the Sheriff's office. You can imagine how quickly a situation can escalate if someone is deaf and thus can't hear an officer's commands, so our law enforcement leaders recognize the importance of this kind of training.

We will host our Halloween Trunk or Treat, where we'll have people sign words in American Sign Language for children to receive their candy.

In September we celebrated Deaf Awareness Month. That's when the deaf community celebrates its uniqueness and brings awareness, understanding and support to people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. We celebrated with an annual event we call the Deaf Family Reunion, a picnic we held this year at Marquette Park. We had hundreds of deaf people and those who care about them join us.

Our other events include Taco Tuesdays; Snack and chats, where we bring people from the Deaf community together so we can understand what's important to them and how we can better serve them. We're collaborating with Hattiloo Theatre, our black repertory theater, to hold signed performances. We've had three so far this season, and we have a holiday performance set for Nov. 30th. We also conduct educational programs for the Deaf around issues like health, finance and technology. We're holding Driver's Education classes on Saturdays starting Nov. 9. And we will hold a college night with the nation's premier university for the Deaf, Gallaudet University out of Washington, D.C.

We're very excited about a new partnership with the Youth Services Department of the City of Memphis. We're working together on their I Am Included program, which will promote employment and education opportunites for young people who are deaf.

American Sign Lanauge DeafConnect offers classes in American Sign Language. Many deaf people communicate using American Sign Language. ASL is a visual language involving signs, facial expressions and body movement. It's used by many in the U.S. and Canada, and like spoken language, it's different from sign languages in other countries. Some deaf people can read lips, however, it's important to recognize that most of speech occurs within the mouth and not on the lips making it quite difficult to fully understand what's being said. That's why hand signs and facial expressions are so important when you're communicate with someone who is deaf.

DeafConnect holds 12-week adult ASL classes each spring, summer and fall. Each summer we hold an ASL summer camp for students ages 6 - 15. These classes are taught by instructors who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Many of our attendees at the summer camp - and even in our adult ASL classes - tell us they don't have deaf family members - they're just interested in learning how to communicate using ASL and learning about Deaf culture. Our next adult ASL class will begin in the spring.

Some famous deaf people Deaf people have made countless contributions to society. Ludwig van Beethoven created some of his greatest musical pieces after he was late-deafened. Thomas Alva Edison was deaf, as was Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts. In 1995 Heather Whitestone became the first deaf Miss America. Actress Marlee Matlin is deaf, and Nyle Dimarco was the first deaf winner of both America's Next Top Model and Dancing with the Stars.

A deaf person made another important contribution that's particularly visible as football season gets underway. Until 1892, football players would talk to teammates on the field to decide strategies for the next play. That proved particularly troublesome for deaf football teams, because sign language was visible from all over the field. To keep competitors from knowing their strategy, Gallaudet University quarterback Paul Hubbard led his team to gather in a circle between plays so they could communicate in sign language without the opposing team knowing their plans. Thus, the huddle was born.

Growing interest and visibility - The deaf community is increasingly visible nationally. LinkedIn and Marriott both have TV commercials featuring deaf people. Google and FedEx have interpreters on staff. The deaf community in Memphis is increasingly visible, too. Our Malco Movie Fourth Saturdays (with captioning), Hattiloo performances (with interpreting), ASL Summer Camp for kids and ASL classes for adults have all seen significant attendance. Rhodes College has an active ASL club. We have 25 ASL interpreters who provided more than 12,000 hours of interpreting through DeafConnect alone last year. ASL is now accepted as a foreign language at the University of Memphis and offered as a minor.

How can the listeners help? Simply listening to this program and becoming more aware of deafness and its unique culture is a big step. Then people can get involved: follow us on social media. Take a sign class. Attend our events. And perhaps most importantly for business leaders, hire deaf people, and support them so they can be successful contributors to your business.

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