News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 12, 2013

Program offers insights to struggles deaf people face every day

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — As the three studied a grocery list Monday, none of them recognized the first item — capers.

Valorie Waggoner and Linda Morris quickly moved their fingers as they spoke to each other through sign language. Mel Burks scratched his head, “Capers? I don’t know what those are?” he said inside Baesler’s Market in Terre Haute.

Peter Ciancone, executive director of The WILL Center, gave them a hint — look in the pickle aisle. (Capers are immature flower buds of the caper bush, usually sun-dried and put into jars with coarse salt or vinegar brine, used as food flavoring.)

Burks, chief executive officer of Hamilton Center Inc., was watching how Waggoner and Morris shopped as he participated in Disability Awareness Through Experience.

The program, part of Disabilities Awareness Month, is aimed at involving community leaders in firsthand learning about coping with sight, hearing and mobility limitations.

Other items, such as pizza sauce and vegetable oil, were quickly found. Then as they discussed Cracker Jacks, a worker from the grocery store overheard Burks and offered assistance. The store clerk quickly showed them were the food item was. Burks thanked the worker, then conveyed he was simply watching as Waggoner and Morris shopped for the item.

Waggoner, while deaf, can speak well and if facing a person, can read lips, which Burks said helped him communicate with the two women.

When all seven items were found, Burks said he appreciated the experience.

“I think it is challenging to communicate quickly,” Burks said. “Sign language is simply a different language. It is no different than if they were speaking French or Arabic to me. We as a society have to understand that and come up to that level of understanding and realize it is a different language.

“I have not spoken the language with all the hand signs, but I do know one thing, I can understand smiles and expression of faces,” Burks said as he thanked Waggoner and Morris.

Both Waggoner and Morris were born deaf. “Both of our parents had Rubella, which was common in the 1960s,” Waggoner said. Rubella is also known as the German measles, which prior to development of a vaccine, caused hearing loss.

Waggoner, 45, was born in Massachusetts, raised in California and there attended a deaf school. However, Waggoner said she did not learn to speak until she was about 23 years old. She said her foster mother helped her to do that. Waggoner is also a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

Waggoner interpreted what Morris said.

“One challenge is to communicate. I was also not sure where items were in the store. Mel helped us a lot,” Morris said.

Waggoner said “the main challenge both of us have is the shortage of interpreters. When you go to a doctor’s appointment or the Social Security office, many times when I go some place like that, they are to provide interpreters and do not.”

“A lot of people do not understand the ADA [Americans with Disabilities] law. Companies or any business offices are required to pay for an interpreter. They think you should have to pay, which is not true,” Waggoner said.

“My biggest problem is communicating via the telephone. A lot of places will call and ask to speak with me,” Waggoner said. “There is a voice, but I can’t hear.”

Waggoner said she has had to sign a consent allowing someone else to speak over the phone on her behalf to agencies such as Social Security. “And sometimes they are not always available to you,” she said.

Morris, 48, was born and raised in Terre Haute and is a graduate of National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, N.Y. Morris said she can “hear sounds but not understand or identify the words.” She can also read lips.

“It is hard to lip read people without teeth or with hair over their mouth or people who draw out their mouth real wide,” she said.

“I can voice if needed, but feel more comfortable with [sign language], as my voice is loud and friends say deaf people don’t know how loud we are, so you keep quiet so you are not too loud,” Morris said.

Waggoner then said, “I am at the point don’t care if I am too loud. I am trying to get the message out in your world, so you can understand us.”

 Morris said she is looking for a part-time job, and while she can type and use a computer, because she is deaf, “it is not easy to find a job here. It is about the communication,” she said.

“We can do everything like other people, we just don’t have ears to ear,” she said.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.

greninger@tribstar. com.