SIL forum addresses problems of hearing disabled

The group sought feedback regarding which issues it should advocate.
Services for Independent Living executive director Aimee Wehmeier speaks to participants at a forum on hearing disabilities Friday afternoon. SIL hosted the forum and another on visual disabilities to better understand what problems people with disabilities face in their daily lives.

Columbia resident Tom Green is deaf. He can’t hear the lines spoken in the newest movies in theaters.

He has asked managers at the Forum 8 Theatre in Columbia to provide some form of closed captioning for people who are deaf or who have hearing impairments, but when he recently spoke to the managers to see if the equipment would be installed, they said they didn’t know what he was talking about.

“They just sent us this package of lies that they were going to have captioned movies, and I contacted the manager in September and he said, ‘Oh, I have no idea about this,'” Green said through a sign language interpreter.

Green’s problem with theater closed captioning was one of several problems aired by participants in a forum hosted Friday afternoon by the Services for Independent Living to address problems faced by those with hearing disabilities on a daily basis. Earlier in the day, SIL hosted a similar forum for those with visual disabilities. They will take feedback from the forums to decide what issues they will lobby on to state and local lawmakers and others who can help the disabled.

SIL program manager Leslie Anderson said the group holds forums because they want to find what areas need to be improved from the people who suffer from various disabilities.

“We’re very consumer-based,” she said. “What we do is come to these forums and try to find out what the needs are rather than telling people what they need to have fixed.”

SIL executive director Aimee Wehmeier said getting people involved in what SIL and other disability groups advocate for gives them a way to be involved in increasing their independence.

“Our mission is to help people with disabilities maximize their independence,” she said. “We’ve spent the last year on strategic planning, and we know that an area where we know we need to make improvement is on our services to people who are deaf and hard of hearing.”

The forum had accommodations for people with all types of hearing disabilities. Speakers came to the front of the room so that those with hearing impairments would be able to read their lips, and interpreters were provided to translate speech to sign language and sign language to spoken words. Closed captioning was also provided for those who are hearing impaired but who do not understand sign language.

Participants also heard from advocates from other disability centers, like the St. Joseph-based Midland Empire Resources for Independent Living. MERIL Director of Communications De Linda Belanger, who is deaf, talked about ways to get people who are deaf and hearing impaired more involved in the community.

Belanger talked about how representatives from Mary Kay makeup had helped deaf and hearing disabled women at MERIL learn to apply makeup and then told them how they looked after they had their makeup on, giving them some of the first comments they had ever received about how beautiful they looked.

Near the end of the forum, Belanger talked about how all the problems disabled people experience are related and not simply isolated incidents.

“Culturally, deaf people have been oppressed by hearing people,” she said. “There’s been so much oppression that’s gone on and so much control, and there’s so many years of this happening that deaf people don’t have the trust in hearing people. The trust isn’t there.”

As Belanger went back to her seat, the room was mostly quiet, but many of the forum’s participants raised their arms and shook their hands in the air, the sign for applause.

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