Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Controversy In WNY Deaf Community

Source Link - Controversy In WNY Deaf Community

"We do not dispute the fact that he can run a business and he can run finances, but the problem is he cannot communicate with us."

So say Jodie Ackerman, a certified American Sign Language instructor, and Tony Brucato, a staff member at Deaf Adult Services, about the recent appointment of Thomas Burns to lead the region's preeminent agency providing services to the deaf and hearing impaired.

Burns previously served as an Associate Vice President at Medaille College and prior to that was Director of Public Relations for the Buffalo Bisons baseball club.

But Ackerman and Brucato say they and several other members of the deaf community believe Burns is the wrong person to put in charge chiefly because he doesn't know sign language.

"In the agency itself we have members on the staff who are deaf, and we're taking an interpreter from the community into the office to communicate between the staff and the director of our agency," Brucato said.

They also claim Burns lacks the cultural understanding to be effective.

"Say there's an organization that services African Americans or black people," said Ackerman. "If they were to look for an Executive Director and they have a panel of candidates and the board decided to choose a white person who applied to lead their organization, ..would that make sense to you?"

Brucato seconded that thought, telling WGRZ-TV, "say you were looking through the newspaper and there there was a position where you needed to know Spanish language or culture. If I saw that I wouldn't apply for that job because I don't know their language or their culture. I wouldn't even think to apply for that."

Ackerman and Brucato, who have recently helped form a group called Western New York Deaf United to protest Burns' appointment, do concede that when it came time to make the appointment 6 out of the 15 board members, who are themselves deaf, did vote to hire Burns.

But they say there were other qualified candidates who were passed over.

"They said they did an extensive search, ...that's their claim, ...we don't believe them," said Ackerman.

Both stressed they have no animus toward Burns.

"We don't feel that Tom Burns should lose his job. In fact, we would like him to stay in the position of Chief Financial Officer," Ackerman told 2 On Your Side.

"He could focus on the finances and on the business aspect of the agency. But hire someone else (as Executive Director), someone fluent in sign language, and it doesn't matter if they're deaf or hearing. This person, with their knowledge of deaf culture and with their experience of working with deaf people, would have a better feeling for what the community needs and they would be able to communicate with them," Ackerman said.

The Deaf Adult Services Board of Directors held a forum Monday to address the controversy, but Brucato and Ackerman say they came away feeling no one was listening.

"This was supposed to be a board sponsored event and less than half of the board members showed, so it feels like they're ignoring us they're not even listening to our concerns," Brucato said.

Burns politely declined comment, but provided 2 On Your Side with the following statement from Pam Rohring, Acting President of the Deaf Adult Services Board of Directors.

Last night we had an open and positive discussion with members of the deaf and hard of hearing communities. We were very pleased in the turnout of individuals and their passion for our organization. We look forward to working with everyone involved to further the mission of our organization.

At this point we are very excited to have our new executive director in place and are looking forward to growing the agency, so that we may better meet the needs of the people we serve. Tom Burns' experience will be a major asset for the organization as we look to raise awareness about Deaf Adult Services and the services we provide. Under his leadership, we will be able to expand our programs and create more services for our community. By doing this, we will work to raise the opportunities for the people in the deaf and hard of hearing communities.

As we stated last night, we will continue to seek an open dialogue with the community and discuss our organization, and the needs of the community. Tom is working feverishly to gain a greater knowledge of sign language and deaf culture. We as a board will continue to provide him with the tools to meet the needs of our constituent base.

We will continue to seek input and feedback about our organization from our staff, board members and members of the community; so that we will meet the needs of the people we serve.

Sincerely,
Pam Rohring
Acting President, Board of Directors