Matthew Scott Moore

Democrat and Chronicle
Rochester, N.Y., Tuesday, March 26, 2002

Local deaf population in national spotlight

Yet some in community criticize the lack of unity

Photo: Annette Lein
Dara Baril signs to friends at a party thrown by Peter and Angela Hauser
for some of their deaf and hard-of-hearing friends.

By Greg Livadas

(March 26, 2002) — Visit an area mall or a Henrietta restaurant and you’ll likely run into someone wearing a hearing aid or using sign language.

The deaf population here is so substantial that Rochester was selected as the last stop this week for a touring exhibit, “History Through Deaf Eyes,” before it goes to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

And Rochester’s deaf community was in the national spotlight earlier this year as the focus of a series on CBS News’ Sunday Morning show.

Despite the national attention on the quality of life of Rochester’s deaf population and the quantity of services available to it, there are people in the deaf community here who think it lacks unity and leadership.
The very size of the Rochester-area deaf population and the dozens of social and recreational options for the deaf, “can be a positive,” said Matt Starr, director of the Health Association’s Monroe County Association of Hearing Impaired People.

“But when an important issue comes up, we are fragmented. We need to come through.”

The Greater Rochester Visitors Association has identified seven target markets in hopes of luring meetings and conventions to the region. Organizations that promote topics appealing to the deaf and hard-of-hearing population are among the key targets, along with groups that promote music and photography.
But few conventions related to deafness have been held here.

Greg Marshall, director of marketing for the visitors association, said that deaf or hard-of-hearing people could help the association pursue contacts to invite potential conventioneers. “But within the deaf community, it’s difficult to find its leadership.”

It is easy for the hearing community to view all deaf people the same: as members of a deaf community. But many differences exist among the deaf.

“Deaf people cannot readily be lumped into any single group,” said Matthew S. Moore, who publishes Deaf Life.

No census of Rochester’s deaf and hard-of-hearing population has ever been taken.

Estimates range from a few thousand people who were born deaf to 90,000 people with varying degrees of hearing loss.

Moore said that deaf people who use speech and those who use sign language may have opposing views on sign-language-related issues but will agree on others, such as the need for accessible telecommunications.

“We lack unity because we lack a strong leader, someone who could ... enable the community to achieve more political clout,” he said.

Constructing an all-purpose community center for the deaf is one idea that might build cohesiveness.

Moore said a community center could be the focal point for services for the deaf and their families. He said there was not enough community support in the past to make such a center a reality, although there have been recent inquiries about resurrecting the concept.

As editor of Deaf Rochester News, Sally Taylor of Brighton also sees variations among local groups. She said there is always a group that focuses on deaf culture and being true to that heritage, “while other people don’t make a big deal of being deaf and just get concerned over issues at the workplace or in politics or whatever.”

Newcomers have found the area’s deaf groups tolerant.

Peter Hauser, who moved to Rochester in 2000 to take a post-doctoral fellowship in neuropsychology at the University of Rochester, said the deaf population here is favorable compared with Washington, D.C., where he used to live.

“There is greater social acceptance of these variations,” said Hauser, 32, who is deaf.

“In fact, many residents have told me that they love Rochester because of the deaf community’s acceptance of different types of deaf people.”

The Greater Rochester Recreation Association of the Deaf takes pride in accepting anyone — hearing or deaf — at events.

“This is the new age of tolerance and we live it through our many social activities and events,” said John Howard, a director of the association.

When AirTran Airways prepared to start flying into Rochester, it hired two people with signing skills.

“We found out Rochester has a large hearing-impaired population, and we figured they would be some of our passengers, so we would need some way to communicate with them,” said AirTran spokesman Tad Hutcheson in Orlando, Fla.

Even before the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, many area stores learned it was good business to be accessible to their deaf customers.

Pizza shops in Henrietta — near National Technical Institute for the Deaf dorms — began installing TTYs, or text telephones. Captioned movies are shown daily at the Regal Theater in Henrietta.

“Health care services are a lot more accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing patients than in the past,” said Alan Hurwitz, dean at NTID.

“Rochester is way ahead of many other cities in the country in terms of accessibility for deaf and hard-of-hearing people.”

Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, N.Y., Tuesday, March 26, 2002

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