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‘SignTalkers’ is online network geared to the deaf and signing

JERUSALEM — SignTalk Foundation, a US-based nonprofit that advances public awareness of the signing community, celebrated the international launching of its online social network, SignTalkers, in Jerusalem on  May 20, with a signed performance by New York based poet and performer Douglas Ridloff.

“SignTalkers gives members of the signing community, both the hearing and deaf, a space for thoughtful conversation,” said Dr. Joseph Geliebter, founder and executive director of SignTalk Foundation.

The virtual space, he said, “will serve to provide a home away from home to meet, share and interact with members of the signing community around the world.”

A member of the deaf community, Ridloff traveled to Israel to kick off the launch and present a series of workshops and performances around the country.

He is best known as the executive director of ASL Slam, as well as for his poetry via sign language and visual storytelling presentations.

“SignTalkers goal is to build an online home where international members of the signing community can come together,” said Geliebter.

“It will also provide a platform for the general public to embrace sign language and ensure that the deaf are afforded equal access and benefit from culture, media and overall society.”

The program was co-sponsored by the International Young Israel Movement, which is involved with programming and support of the Israeli deaf community.

Ridloff visited with several Israeli organizations and schools, meeting deaf children, artists and theatrical performers, including performers with the Na LaGa’at Theater group.

He plans to tour with the Deaf Sports Assn. and the Holon Children’s Museum, which includes an exhibit that replicates the experience of the hard of hearing, and will present a workshop to athletes.

He participated in a Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebration for 80 deaf and hard-of-hearing children from throughout Israel.

The ceremony and visit to the Western Wall were presented in sign language, and are the culmination of a year of programming specially designed for them.

Daniel Meyer, executive director of IYIM, noted that “the message of this ceremony is that every child in Israel deserves to be counted and to celebrate in a way that respects their specific needs and interests.

“Deaf children need to know that they are able to experience this coming-of-age experience the same way as every other child in Israel.

“Having Mr. Ridloff join as a role model for these children is the icing on their Bar and Bat Mitzvah cake.”

Jewish Agency chair Isaac Herzog, who attended the ceremony said, “Each and every one of us remembers our Bar or Bat Mitzvah for all our lives. For many years, the Jewish Agency has partnered with the Young Israel movement to help bring this tradition to the hearing-impaired community, who are unable to enjoy this experience like others their ages.

“This ceremony is therefore a deeply emotional one for all of us — and their parents, in particular — and I welcome this opportunity to wish all of those celebrating a big mazal tov.”

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Fired director of state’s deaf agency hired for Illinois School for the Deaf

JACKSONVILLE — A Sherman resident who was fired in 2017 as director of the Springfield-based Illinois Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission when his bosses said they lacked confidence in his leadership has been hired as a manager at the state-funded Illinois School for the Deaf.

John Miller, 49, will be paid $77,640 per year and is scheduled to begin June 3 as the full-time dean of students for ISD’s high school dormitory, according to Illinois Department of Human Services spokeswoman Meghan Powers.

Powers, whose state agency runs ISD, said in an email Wednesday that Miller was “chosen as the most qualified for this position” at the Jacksonville school.

ISD educates about 220 deaf and hard of hearing students in prekindergarten through high school and in a post-secondary “transitional-living program.” Half of ISD students live on campus at 125 S. Webster Ave.

The hiring of the former director of the deaf commission for another state job stunned several leaders in central Illinois’ deaf community and added to a list of controversies making news the past two years at the school.

“I’m speechless,” said Deloris Summers, president of the Jacksonville Community Center for the Deaf. “I believe that if you’re fired from a state job … you shouldn’t be eligible for any other openings.”

The Jacksonville chapter of the Illinois Association of the Deaf issued a statement that said chapter members were “perplexed as to how that could have happened. We are concerned with the questionable state hiring practices of hiring a state employee that was recently fired from another state job.”

Miller didn’t respond to a phone message and an email seeking comment.

He was paid $81,528 per year when the board governing the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission — a state agency advocating for the needs of deaf people — voted unanimously in November 2017 to terminate Miller after 13 years as director.

The board member making the motion to fire Miller said the board had “lost confidence in his ability to lead the commission effectively going forward.”

Miller previously was put on paid administrative leave by the board.

Members of the Illinois Association of the Deaf, an all-volunteer advocacy group, had said Miller didn’t do enough to lobby the General Assembly for legislation benefiting the deaf community.

IAD members said the commission, part of the executive branch, also didn’t provide enough “information and referral” services to deaf people who are attempting to secure educational services in public schools, fighting discrimination on the job or having disputes with American Sign Language interpreters.

The association complained to the commission and the executive branch’s Office of Executive Inspector General in 2017 that Miller “harassed and attempted to intimidate several IAD members” and contacted one IAD member’s employer.

Miller, who is deaf and fluent in American Sign Language, will replace Andrea Simeone, who earned $85,968 annually and is retiring from the School for the Deaf, Powers said.

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Actress Marlee Matlin: Courage Plus Dreams Equals Success

That’s the formula that helped Matlin, deaf since she was 18 months old, overcome barriers and win the Best Actress Oscar at age 21 for her 1986 debut feature film turn in “Children of a Lesser God.”

“Though I work in a field that couldn’t be more different than what you all are working in, as women, we share a common goal,” Matlin said at the Women of the Channel Leadership Summit West in Palm Springs, Calif. “It’s the desire, actually the right, to stand equally with our male peers … apply skills learned, realizing our full potential and achieving success.”

I, too, in my journey came with the same questions that you are being asked today,” said Matlin, whose words, conveyed using American Sign Language, were given voice by Jack Jason, her interpreter of 33 years. “How do I choose the right path and figure out who I’m supposed to be? What are the best tools to get there? And, most importantly, how can I ensure that I will get all the answers? And that’s why I’m so glad to have the opportunity to be here today to learn, to share, to inspire and, best of all, to motivate each other.”

Thirty-two years ago in January, Matlin said she was asking those same questions when she checked herself into the Betty Ford Center for drug addiction treatment in nearby Rancho Mirage, the day after she won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in “Children of a Lesser God” and on the eve of her Academy Award nomination.

“What is important is that my journey could not have been possible without three very simple words, which I carry around with me every day: They are courage, dreams and success,” Matlin said.

Matlin And Courage

Without the courage that she learned from her parents, teachers and mentors, Matlin said she would not have realized success when no one thought it was possible because she’s deaf.

Matlin’s parents set her on that path, insisting she attend school in their neighborhood at a time when “mainstreaming” deaf or disabled children into regular classrooms was not yet mandated by federal law.

“It was courage,” Matlin said. “Every day, my parents opened the front door and encouraged me to explore. It was about me, not my deafness. They gave me freedoms like any child who could hear. They allowed me to roam around the neighborhood on my own, walk to stores by myself, even make friends with kids in the neighborhood without their constant worry or intervention. Granted, I was different. And yes, kids could be bullies or insensitive. But to them, that was just a part of growing up, giving me the tools to stand up for myself.”

Her family worked so hard to make sure her life was no different than other kids’ that a reporter many years later noted Matlin’s childhood must have been like living with the Brady Bunch.

“And he was right, because with that Matlin courage and that positive attitude, I was encouraged to be whoever I wanted to be,” Matlin said. “I imagined myself as the most positive role model I knew at the time: Marcia Brady. Marcia Brady who just happened to be deaf with long luxurious hair, skating down the street, saying ‘hi’ to everyone in the neighborhood, whether they knew me or not.”

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Gilbert Police Train To Communicate With Deaf And Hard Of Hearing Communities

Gilbert Police Department

Gilbert police are going through a new type of training to reach out to a previously underserved community in the Valley.

Bill Campbell is the training sergeant for the Gilbert Police Department. He can say all of staff, both sworn and non-sworn, are all going through training provided by the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. This training was set up so Gilbert Police Department can recognize the deaf and hard-of-hearing community and their special needs, and give the officers tools to communicate with them.

“At any time, night or day, we could find ourselves in contact with a person who speaks a different language or who has some form of disability that makes communication difficult,” Campbell said.

The staff are also learning the way federal laws impact the way department interacts with the deaf and hard of hearing communities.

“Knowing the legalities of what level of translator we might have to supply to be able to have effective communication that would also protect their rights as citizens,” Campbell said.

Completing the training will keep the Gilbert Police Department in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

National Association of the Deaf CEO Howard Rosenblum said law enforcement are subject to Title II of the ADA, “which bars state and local government entities from discriminating in the provision of programs and services to people with disabilities.”

“A police officer is not supposed to treat deaf and hard-of-hearing people differently from others who are in equivalent situations,” Rosenblum said.

Sgt. Campbell said the Arizona Commission program is not unlike other language training the department has implemented in the past.

“We have given our officers conversational training in Spanish,” Campbell said. “We have given our officers cheat sheets and things like that to help them to communicate better with folks.”

Beca Bailey is the community engagement liaison for the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. She said traffic stops are the most common way deaf and hard-of-hearing people come into contact with police.

“Suppose you were in a different country and you were pulled over by a foreign-speaking officer,” Bailey said. “That feeling is synonymous with what deaf people go through whenever they get pulled over.”

Bailey said it’s important for police officers to recognize that a person is not necessarily disobeying or ignoring instructions but simply can’t hear them. She and other members of the commission taught the Gilbert staff alternate ways to communicate effectively and de-escalate situations before they become dangerous.

Typically they will communicate through writing back and forth,” Bailey said. “Rarely something will happen where a deaf person is maybe a victim or a witness.”

Bailey said in that situation a certified licensed interpreter would need to be provided in order to take a statement.

She said the goal with the police training is ultimately pretty simple.

“I think just basic understanding of the norms and behaviors of deaf, hard-of-hearing and deaf-blind people, that will dispel any myths and maybe avoid misunderstandings,” Bailey said.

She said working with the police allows the deaf and hard-of-hearing community to build a level of trust so they will feeling comfortable reaching out to first responders whenever they’re in need.

Typically they will communicate through writing back and forth,” Bailey said. “Rarely something will happen where a deaf person is maybe a victim or a witness.”

Bailey said in that situation a certified licensed interpreter would need to be provided in order to take a statement.

She said the goal with the police training is ultimately pretty simple.

“I think just basic understanding of the norms and behaviors of deaf, hard-of-hearing and deaf-blind people, that will dispel any myths and maybe avoid misunderstandings,” Bailey said.

She said working with the police allows the deaf and hard-of-hearing community to build a level of trust so they will feeling comfortable reaching out to first responders whenever they’re in need.

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Ottawa will implement Senate proposals to strengthen accessibility law: minister

Carla Qualtrough

Canada’s accessibility minister says the government will be acting on the Senate’s proposed recommendations to strengthen the country’s first piece of accessibility legislation for people with disabilities.

Carla Qualtrough sent a letter to disabled advocates saying the government planned to accept all the amendments senators had proposed for Bill C-81, also known as the Accessible Canada Act.

Earlier this month, the Senate committee on social affairs, science and technology adopted several amendments that nearly a hundred disability organizations said were necessary to make the law effective.

Chief among them was a call to set a timeline requiring the act to be fully implemented in all areas under federal jurisdiction by 2040, as well as recognition of sign language as an official language among deaf Canadians.

The federal government had resisted some of those measures as the bill worked its way through the House of Commons, but Qualtrough says all proposed Senate amendments will now be included.

The amended bill is expected to come back before Parliament for final consideration next week.

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