Sunday, February 07, 2010

Florence teen becomes MS legislature's first deaf page

Florence teen becomes MS legislature's first deaf page

JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - The pages at the Mississippi Capitol must be quick on their feet and stay alert to the needs of legislators.

19-year-old Derek Schmitz of Florence jumped right in, despite the fact that he's 100 percent deaf.

"I have a variety of duties here," Schmitz told us through translator Zachary Breland. "I run errands for different representatives. I do whatever the head page asks me to do."

Schmitz is a senior at the Mississippi School for the Deaf in Jackson. He wears a hearing aid which gives him very limited residual hearing. As he works as a page in the Mississippi House this week, Breland follows him everywhere.

Breland's assistance has enabled Schmitz to fully appreciate a debate on the floor.

"There was some interesting discussion yesterday in terms of gaming, hunting, fishing," Schmitz told us. "Any time the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks comes into play, there's heated discussion. I am very much a wildlife person. I do love animals."

Schmitz plans to become a veterinarian, but his experience at the Capitol has sparked an interest in politics. It's also refreshing for our lawmakers. "Gives all students in our state the opportunity to see how the legislature works regardless of their disability, regardless of circumstances," said Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg.

With his new connections, Schmitz might suggest his own idea for a house bill that would require all deaf children to enroll in the Mississippi School for the Deaf. "They would not go to public school because the MS School for the Deaf can offer better services in my opinion. In public school there's lots of miscommunication because you have teachers not qualified or certified to teach deaf kids," Schmitz told us.

Schmitz is the Mississippi Legislature's first deaf page, but he's sure he won't be the last.

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