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Committee seeks building location to serve deaf in East Texas

Committee seeks building location to serve deaf in East Texas

October 27, 2014

BY KELLY GOOCH, [email protected]

After Regina Cooper met her first deaf couple, she formed a positive impression that remains today.

Ms. Cooper, a 19-year-old at the time, said the husband was excited that she knew some American Sign Language, and she later met his wife.

“We’d do this give and take. And we’d start talking a little bit the more that my skills had improved, and they were a big encouragement to me,” said Ms. Cooper, who is a sign language interpreter.

“That was a good first experience with the deaf community, and it seems like ever since then it’s just a repeat of the same thing — just that friendliness, the warmth, the encouragement.”

About 98,000 deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, including those who are completely deaf, as well as veterans and older people who became deaf, live in a 23-county region in East Texas, according to Susie Grona , adjunct professor at Tyler Junior College and president of the Tyler Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center’s community advisory committee. Among the counties in that region are Anderson, Cherokee, Henderson, Rusk, Smith, Van Zandt and Wood.

Mrs. Grona , who is deaf, said the center does not currently have a building to serve members of this population, but that is its goal.

“The primary goal of the TDHHC is to offer a comprehensive group of services for the deaf, hard of hearing and deafblind. This includes interpreter services, after-school and summer programs for children, senior citizen programs, sign language classes, adult literacy classes and more,” according to the center’s website. “Through individual donations, grants, fundraisers or corporate donations we are anxious to obtain a building. This would allow several entities providing services to persons who are deaf, hard of hearing and deafblind to sublease office space allowing all services to be located in one place. Additional space in the building will be used for: reception area, executive director’s office, two to three other offices, storage, kitchen, large open space for activities, and a large area with movable dividers for classes and meetings.”

“Just like hearing people in your community senior citizen centers have, we want something like that for the deaf people so the communication is clear and easy,” Mrs. Grona said.

Ideally, she said, the building for this would be close to a bus line — for those who can’t drive — and to a park, since the center plans to serve deaf children through an after-school program and summer activities.

The deaf and hard of hearing center, a nonprofit organization, does have a board of directors and a community advisory committee, which gives suggestions to the board about ideas and concerns, Mrs. Grona said.

The committees meet in the office of Dr. Lonny McKinzie, president of the board of directors.

And there are social gatherings and meetings available around the area for members of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. That includes deaf chats at Java Jams inside Brookshire’s and Whataburger in Lindale, as well as a regular Terp Chat, where East Texas interpreters have an opportunity to socialize and mentor each another.

Mrs. Grona said there also are planned recreational activities each month, and on Nov. 1, meetings and activities are scheduled at the community building behind Shiloh Road Church of Christ.

She said the center also is trying to set up a 5K Fun Run/Walk event this spring as a fundraiser.

Deaf in the hearing world

As far as being deaf in a hearing world, each deaf person has a different experience, Mrs. Grona said.

If she meets someone who doesn’t respect her, she “finds somebody else.”“I don’t get angry. I don’t do that kind of thing. I make the best out of it,” she added.

She said one misconception about the deaf and hard-of-hearing community is that ASL is not a language; it is.

Also, not all deaf people are the same, she said.

“We’re all different. We all have different communication styles and skills,” she said.

She said some deaf people are very successful — some have degrees, are doctors, and some are teachers.

“Deaf people are the same as hearing people. The only difference is they can’t hear ,” she said.

Stephanie Deibert, adjunct professor at Tyler Junior College, said her biggest impression of the deaf community that she believes is often misconceived is that “people are people first and they’re deaf or hearing second.”

“They want to meet someone special, fall in love, have a good marriage, have healthy children, have a good job, nice home. They want the same things. People have those same wants and needs, so that’s the biggest thing to me — they are people,” Ms.Deibert said.

She said the deaf and hard-of -hearing population in East Texas is special and close-knit because they have shared life experience.

And she said she believes it’s imperative to find a building for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center.

That way, she said, there is a place where students who want to become interpreters; teachers and interpreters; and maybe hearing parents with deaf children, among others, can come together and share their love for American Sign Language and deaf culture and enjoy it together.

She said she fell in love with ASL and knew she wanted to teach it. She currently interprets part-time and is secretary of the Tyler Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center board.

Ms. Cooper met her first interpreter in high school — a deaf boy who transferred in.

“We were in the same art class, so I saw my first ever working interpreter, and I was just in awe. And at that time I didn’t know that it was a real profession. I just thought: ‘It’s a language.’ So my goal was to just learn the language,” she said.

So when she needed to take one more class, she said she took an ASL class and was hooked.

And she spoke of her own experience with the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.“It’s just an amazing experience.
With all the deaf people that I’ve met, I’ve chatted with, everything, I just feel very blessed to have that opportunity. That they accept me into their culture, into their world,” she said. “It’s very humbling at the same time to just feel that love and that support and that encouragement from within the deaf community.”

For more information about the Tyler Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center, visit http://www.TDHHC.org .



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