Branstad recognizes Deaf Awareness Week


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After arriving in Iowa seven years ago from the state of Washington, one University of Iowa deaf instructor noted the state had not had a week dedicated to hearing-impaired individuals since the early 1970s. 

Now, with the help of the Deaf Commission of Iowa, Bob Vizzini is on a long journey, which included rewriting and perfecting the proclamation that was later passed.

“I think that we have the opportunity to show our community what deafness means and what we’ve been frustrated with,” said Vizzini, a UI American Sign Language lecturer, through a relay interpreter. “There are many deaf people around our community, and through more of our events and increase the exposure, and will then help others listen a bit more and better understand what’s going on.”

Gov. Terry Branstad issued an official state proclamation recognizing Deaf Awareness Week earlier this month.

The UI American Sign Language Program in the Division of World Languages, Literatures, and Cultures is hosting Deaf Awareness Week events through Friday. Monday evening’s event was held at the Seamans Center.

“Gov. Branstad believes Deaf Awareness Week is an important time to highlight all the positive contributions Iowans who are deaf or hard of hearing contribute to Iowa’s communities,” Branstad communication director Tim Albrecht wrote in an email.

According to recent data compiled by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, as of June 2010, there were 36 million Americans who experience some degree of hearing loss.

Iowa is home to more than 300,000 deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

As of the spring 2013 academic period at the UI, roughly 12 students had reported hearing loss to the UI Student Disabilities Services. Several university faculty members are also deaf.

“I think it’s a great idea to have this awareness week,” Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, said. “If you are deaf, it’s a whole new language and different from some disabilities, and they have to learn a whole new language.”

The weeklong events aim to educate, inform, and introduce sign language and the problems deaf individuals face in the community. The workshops range from informing students on how to interact with a deaf person to playing volleyball at the Field House with deaf and hearing athletes.

“We really wanted to take advantage of that local connection and we would like our program to be more visible but we would like just the community in general to be aware that there are deaf people on campus,” said AmyRuth McGraw, a lecturer for the UI’s American Sign Language program.

“There are students learning American Sign Language, and I think in some ways we are visible in that we walk around signing people.”

Because the UI doesn’t have to provide interpreters for the weeklong workshops, the American Sign Language program was responsible for paying interpreters. The cost for the interpreters can range from $75 to $100 an hour per interpreter.

Although the UI has hosted several events in the month of March, recognizing Deaf History Month, there has not been a week that was specifically dedicated to deaf awareness in more than 30 years.

Through the several events that kicked off Monday, students and faculty were encouraged to participate in a workshop that practices proper etiquette when address a deaf person.

For one UI student, her attendance at the event came because she has been curious about the deaf culture from a young age.

“It’s like a completely different culture, and for me personally, I think it’s been interesting to learn about the deaf culture, and it’s interesting how the hearing culture and the deaf culture come together,” UI sophomore Sarah Strub said. “Plus I think we need to come to a point where it’s not deaf community and hearing community, its one community.”

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