Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Wider opportunities, rights for deaf sought

Wider opportunities, rights for deaf sought

Patricia Tadak wants to see an assisted living facility for deaf senior citizens built in Western New York.

Eileen Wuest wants deaf and blind citizens to have the same rights as everyone else.

David Wantuck wants deaf athletes to be able to play professional sports.

Those were just a few of the hopes for the future expressed Friday during a conference of the Deaf Community Alliance Network in Buffalo. More than 70 people who are deaf, hearing impaired or who work with the deaf gathered in the Hyatt Regency Buffalo to discuss the need for more comprehensive services for deaf and hearing-impaired Western New Yorkers.

The need is still great, said Jason Goldstein, program director for Deaf Adult Services of Western New York.

“For so long, we’ve been silent about it,” Goldstein said. “We need to open the doors.”

Goldstein said access to communication and services for deaf individuals in Western New York remains “sparse,” despite decades of progress.

The conference, “Through the Eyes of the Deaf,” brought together service providers, interpreters and others to discuss issues such as sign language access, interpreting certificate reform, education advancement and health care.

Wantuck, a deaf student at Medaille College and a member of the college’s basketball and golf teams, said he has seen deaf athletes receive different treatment from others because of their disability.

“I have encountered many barriers with communication issues,” Wantuck said during an afternoon panel discussion, which was interpreted in sign language and speech. “I had coaches look at me differently. I was treated differently. I don’t want that.”

Wantuck, who wants to become a sports manager, said he hopes one day professional leagues such as the NBA or the NFL could field deaf teams.

Goldstein estimated there are 4,500 deaf residents in Erie and Niagara counties, but he said resources in Western New York lag behind other areas, where interpreting and other services are more widely available.

The conference was organized by Deaf Adult Services of Western New York, in collaboration with Aspire of Western New York, Heritage Centers and Independent Living of Niagara.

“It’s just bringing awareness to the community about the need for full communication access,” said Laurie Murray, an employment specialist for the deaf at Aspire of Western New York.