Members of Utah's deaf community called Thursday for state government to end discrimination and appoint a deaf person to administer a new division of deaf services.
A standing-room-only crowd packed the board room and an adjoining lobby at the State Office of Education, 250 E. Fifth South, for two hours while the deaf communicated their feelings some using sign language, others speaking about short- and long-term plans for the Division of Services to the Hearing Impaired."We must control our own destiny. We are no longer willing to sit idly by and watch hearing people wreck our programs and control our future," Dave Mortensen of the Utah Association for the Deaf said through a sign language interpreter.
Some of the deaf showed their frustration about state policies by carrying placards saying "No more prejudice, discrimination," "It's time for civil rights to be recognized" and "Are we different from the blind?" Others criticized the new division's name, preferring instead that the word "deaf" be added.
The division, to be part of the State Office of Rehabilitation, was created during the recent legislative session. It will begin operation July 1. A national search will be conducted to find a division director, according to Judy Buffmire, Office of Rehabilitation executive director.
The Utah protest came three weeks after deaf students at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., demanded that a deaf person be appointed as president there.
"They have been oppressed by hearing people. They say through sign language that they were pushed down," said Rodney Walker, local Gallaudet alumni association president. "Our feelings are the same as students at Gallaudet University."
Lloyd Perkins said through an interpreter that deafness has been treated like AIDS in Utah - a disease to run away from.
"The deaf in Utah in their own system have not been trained either in the school (for the deaf) or rehabilitation to be leaders," Perkins said.
Quoting a statement made during the Gallaudet protest, Perkins said, "When the hearing believe they have to take care of the deaf, this is outright hatred,prejudice and discrimination and a grand display of ignorance."
Robert Sanderson, director of deaf services with the State Office of Education and deaf since childhood said the new division is a step in the right direction but criticized the Office of Rehabilitation for not seeking comment from the deaf community before introducing the measure in the Legislature.
"I would strongly recommend that a trained, experienced deaf professional person be appointed to head the division. The reason for this is a deaf person with deep understanding will recongnize the needs of deaf people and their culture."
Jim Harper, a deaf Provo resident, said the deaf of the state feel as if hearingpeople are their puppeteers. The deaf may have a hearing loss, but they do not have a mental loss, he said.