Matthew Scott Moore

Rochester, N.Y., Friday, September 23, 1994

Silent cheers for Miss America

While she can speak, some deaf cannot

By Chris Swingle

Staff Writer, Times-Union

Local deaf people are happy to be represented by a deaf Miss America.

But her ability to speak worries some members of the that [sic] community.

"I don’t want people to have the stereotype that all deaf people are capable of speaking," said Mark Tauscher, an RIT graduate student who is deaf and cannot speak.

Some deaf people lip-read, some we one or more types of sign language, some speak and some use a combination of methods. Heather Whitestone, named the first deaf Miss America Saturday, reads lips, uses a hearing aid, speaks and can sign. During the pageant, she spoke but didn’t sign.

Whatever she does, Whitestone’s public position will shine a spotlight on deaf issues and the abilities of deaf people.

Efforts are already under way to bring her to Rochester. Of the 1 million people in metropolitan Rochester, about 58,000 are hearing-impaired, including about 8,000 who are profoundly deaf.

Representatives of Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf and of Rochester-based Deaf Life magazine have sent a letter inviting the 21-year-old from Alabama to talk here and to be interviewed by the magazine.

"I feel it’s good news for some deaf people," Deaf Life publisher Matthew Moore said of Whitestone’s win. But he also worries she will be caught up in the issue of promoting the use of sign language rather than speech.

"I think it’s going to be a very touchy issue for her," said Moore, who uses sign language most of the time but can speak if necessary.

Many people expect Whitestone to bring the same public attention to deafness that occurred when Marlee Matlin, who is deaf, won an Oscar award for the 1986 movie Children of a Lesser God. Both are breakthroughs of deaf people into the mainstream.

Robert Panara, an NTID professor emeritus, said he and his wife Shirley, "literally jumped for joy" upon seeing Whitestone win the crown. "We know she will make an excellent ambassador as well as a role model not only for all deaf and hard-of-hearing people but for all disabled and minority people as well."

Panara said he saw Whitestone on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno this week, where she showed people that she could sign and speak at the same time. Whitestone answered questions by speaking rather than signing during the Miss America pageant.

The first deaf Miss America said she didn’t know she’d won until she read another contestant’s lips.


Heather Whitestone signs and speaks. (Photo: The Associated press)

Times-Union, Rochester, N.Y., Friday, September 23, 1994

Reprinted by permission of Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

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