Deaf Women Supporting Deaf Women

This article originally appeared in Get a Z Life Magazine

deafwomenWhen you put a group of women together to work, what do you get? Ask anyone this question, and you’re likely to get stereotypical responses like, “Oooh, catfight!” or “A lot of drama and backstabbing.” Is this really accurate, especially in the Deaf community? Many don’t think so.

Stereotypes

Why do such negative stereotypes persist? “I think it’s because of the already-oppressive world that women live in,” says Deaf Women United (DWU) Chair Melissa Yingst Huber of Phoenix. “For a long time, women have faced oppression, and just recently more and more women are emerging as leaders. Women have had to work harder, and in a sense, ‘fight’ to earn respect as leaders, so that is already a negative connotation in us as women, that we have to fight hard to earn the respect we deserve as leaders. It may be hard for some women to celebrate other women leaders because they are already fighting for a place for themselves in society. So it may be their first instinct to view other women leaders as competition rather than recognizing them as equally accomplished female counterparts in the world.”

 Socorro Moore of Seattle, who serves on the Council de Manos board along with the DWU board, agrees. “To collaborate and work together can be challenging because we’re dealing with people different from ourselves, and our self-interests may conflict. Women might also have fears coming from a place of unawareness, [fears of] being judged and miscommunication, and being patronized simply because they are women.”

Another factor of negative stereotypes is the expectation of women to do it all. Huber says, “Many women who have children may be expected or feel that they need to put in more time with their children, and that takes away the free time that they may have to continue with leadership commitments, activities, and so on, especially if they are working women.”
“There’s so much domestic violence going on, a lot of women have self-esteem issues where they may need support from other women without judgment,” adds Sharon White, an active National Black Deaf Advocate participant from Frankfort, Ky. “We also have to remember different backgrounds, cultures and religions. Today, things are a lot different for women in employment, especially for single moms—the list goes on. It’s sometimes frustrating and hard to get everyone together. There are many bright women out there but they may be not available to be part of the advocacy network because they have small children, and they don’t have the time to give to support groups.”

Huber, however, sees an upside to this high expectation. “The idea that many women take on many different roles can enable them to be great multitaskers, juggle different commitments, and develop skills to make significant contributions to the community.”

Lack of Support and Role Models

Another challenge is the lack of support and role models, Huber says. “In the Deaf world, where the crab theory is already imminent, that’s a double negative for Deaf women. Deaf people are already trying to make their place in a hearing-dominated world, so it makes it doubly harder for Deaf women leaders to emerge and celebrate each other.”

“I think healthy models are lacking because many of us did not have other women to look up to while growing up,” Marilyn Jean Smith of Seattle says. Smith founded the acclaimed Abused Deaf Women Advocacy Services (ADWAS) organization and has served on numerous boards, including DWU and the National Association of the Deaf. She continues, “I personally had to unlearn a lot of things, move away from the hierarchal model and go with a consensus model, which I think respects everyone’s thoughts (or tries to). Our models have been traditional male ones, which is, for the most part, about power and control.”

Huber echoes this perspective. “It has often been said that women are too emotional and sensitive. However, I feel that very element makes women great leaders. Being emotionally in tune enables women to connect with others, be more in tune with others’ emotions, understand each other more, gauge interest and reactions from other people.”

She points out that the availability of Deaf women as role models in her upbringing helped her become the confident, happy woman she is today. “I’ve always loved being a Deaf woman. My pride of being a strong Deaf woman probably comes from the fact that I had a Deaf mother who was a strong woman, never afraid to share her thoughts, and that was instilled in me at a very young age. I also had wonderful Deaf female role models growing up. That sense of pride only got stronger as I grew older.”

The Deaf community is close-knit in nature, so when the crab theory is in full force, that can become difficult to address, Smith says. “I think we go quiet most of the time when we see someone sabotaging the efforts of another or don’t confront women who tell stories about others that may not be true. Our community is certainly small and in an effort to get along with everyone, however superficial it is, this can mean we sometimes keep quiet to not rock the boat.”

Sofia Seitchik, of Global Deaf Women, says, “This pulling-down of each other takes place because of people’s mindsets and their upbringings. Many don’t realize what their beliefs are as Deaf people, which are often developed from oppression.” She continues, “They need to reexamine themselves and ask themselves questions like, ‘Is there anything I can do to shift my mindset and beliefs as a Deaf woman, to believe that we are intelligent and as capable as any other person?’ This will help them open their hearts and this can be a very powerful self-mirror. Only then can they really support other women, such as Deaf business owners.”

Deaf Business Owners

Jasmine Garcia-Freeland, who owns All That Jazz and lives in Bozeman, Mont., sees this pulling-down often. “As a second-year business owner who is a Deaf woman, I think a lot of the negativity is based on mentality.” She cites a pattern among many Deaf women who refuse to support certain Deaf businesswomen simply because of personal conflicts, rather than looking at the bigger picture of the Deaf ecosystem. “To me, it doesn’t matter if I like that person or not. It’s important that we always support each other, encourage each other, and strive for a stronger Deaf business community so that our reach can extend to the hearing community, too.”

Seitchik is a successful business and life coach working with Deaf women entrepreneurs. “In the past few years we’ve seen some of the fastest-growing numbers of Deaf-owned and woman-owned businesses, but not many of them survive. This creates unique stressors, because so many eyes are on the owners, waiting to see if they fail. There exists a norm among the Deaf community that they will wait to see if a business makes it or not before they support.” As a result, Seitchik says, deaf businesswomen have to invest time and energy in educating the community on their businesses, rather than focusing on the businesses themselves.

Seitchik also receives the same questions repeatedly in her coaching: “I get asked over and over again, ‘Will I be successful in my business? Will Deaf people support me? Do you think I can do it?’ I see so much fear in their eyes, and this pains me because this is the mindset that has been in place for many years. Most deaf people prefer to invest in hearing businesses because they mistakenly believe that hearing people know more. This is even more true for deaf women business owners, and it’s tiring and demoralizing.”

Strategies for Support

Moore believes the solution to removal of negativity can be found in ourselves. “We each have to get out of our way to help others reach their goals. This goes beyond concern for yourself and your own advancement. Don’t panic when others are happy and improving—envy, jealousy, and bitterness are a waste of time, and it’s not a great place to feel insecurity.”

Smith agrees wholeheartedly. “I have my limits with negative people. There is only so much I can do and then I need to walk away or minimize our encounters. One thing I know for sure: always respond in a positive way to negativity. It is draining work but it has to happen or you risk getting sucked in.” She suggests writing about your experiences, and having dialogue by being vulnerable and being open. She often posts her thoughts on social media, saying, “I’m amazed at how many people validate some things I post on Facebook with responses like, ‘Whew, I’m not alone. I thought I was the only one.’ We need to praise other women not just to their faces but also to others. Cherish their gifts, as you want them to cherish yours. Be a role model.”

White says, “Trying to work together and trying to find a common ground is always important. It’s best to take a negative situation and try to see the positive of it and work with that.” She adds, “We need to start offering our experiences in exchange for helping out with peer groups for women to help become more independent as well as boosting their self-esteem.” Sharing experiences to bond with others is another way women can support each other, she believes. “Provide support for them. Let them know there are resources out there. Be honest and open-minded, and provide clear communication so that things can be understood rather than misunderstood. Basically, treat deaf women the way you wish to be treated as a human being, not because we are deaf.”

Celebrating each person’s accomplishments is another step, Huber says. “Each woman has a unique story and has so much to contribute, and it’s so important to celebrate and recognize what each woman can contribute, whether big or small. When women are recognized and celebrated, this inspires other women, creating a ripple effect.”

Although there are many who continue to believe in traditional roles and expectations for women, Huber has hope. “The optimist in me has already seen so much positive change in today’s society where people are becoming more accepting and aware of everyone’s differences, respecting everyone’s backgrounds. There are only more good things to come, which will include more acceptance, celebration, and respect for women. Not only the concept of womanhood, but also the full picture of each woman, all the different layers in each woman, and the different intersectionalities of each.”

Garcia-Freeland adds, “It’s so important to socialize with women from all walks of life, because this is the reality of the world. It’s diverse, and I want to work well with others. I can accomplish this because I value each person’s experiences and stories, regardless of whether we have mutual friends or not.”

“I am aware that we Deaf women may have to work harder and prove ourselves, but that’s okay with me, because I know that we Deaf women are fully capable of accomplishing many wonderful things. I would not change a thing, especially with the plethora of Deaf female organizations out there and all the opportunities for Deaf women out there,” Huber says. “There’s always magic when you put together a group of women, because they’re able to influence each other and inspire each other in positive ways.”

Remembering Chuck Baird (1947-2012)

I first met Chuck Baird when I was 10. My parents took me to see King of Hearts, a magnificent production by the National Theatre of the Deaf. To this day, it’s the only theatrical production I ever really enjoyed. After the show, Chuck came out to mingle with the audience. I remember him as being gregarious; he didn’t talk down to me, and I walked away in awe of his sincerity.

Fifteen years later, I went with friends to the annual International Center on Deafness festival in Chicago. By then, I had become aware of Chuck’s notoriety as an artist, and was a bit star-struck when a friend introduced us. I told him of how we met nearly two decades before. He told me later that it was at that moment that he knew that we were meant to be soul friends.

Today, 30 years after I first met Chuck and three years after his passing, I think about him often. We became extremely close in the years after our second meeting, and I came to know him not as Chuck the deaf artist, but as someone who constantly found himself at odds with his own world views, beliefs, and values. He and I were kindred spirits, and he helped bring me out of a dark time. I took to calling him my heart savior, because he helped heal my heart with his wisdom and belief in me.

We saw each other frequently, usually at deaf events, and we were inseparable when together. We met up in Kentucky, California, Missouri, New York, Louisiana, Washington, D.C., Connecticut, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and so many other places. He was fiercely loyal to me as I was to him, and showed that in so many ways when we visited.

As I became busier, having four children in four years, and as he relocated to Austin, Texas, we didn’t talk as often. Still, we continued to meet up from time to time. A month after I had my first child, Chuck made a detour from a stay in South Dakota to see me during the 2008 Clerc Classic tournament in Minnesota. As always, it was like no time had gone by. We talked nonstop, and I remember him looking at my daughter in awe, a child who was an extension of me.

Chuck was truly a Renaissance man. He was also the perfect example of a starving, temperamental artist — always on the hunt for the next paycheck, the next place to live. That sometimes was frustrating for me, because I knew intimately his amazing talents and his mind-blowing brilliance. He was and is revered as an artist, yet he never made the money he deserved. We spent hours talking about this, along with our life experiences, Deaf history, philosophy, God, friends, books, and everything else under the sun. He gave me so many beautiful things: a book about covered bridges, a leather journal, his artwork, jewelry like a necklace with shapes resembling the ASL sign for “communicate,” and best of all, his time.

When Chuck told me he had cancer, I was heartbroken. I felt helpless because I was so far away, and pregnant yet again. As his time came closer, we became more spiritually connected, even though we didn’t talk often. He and I agreed that he would mail me all of my letters back to me, so I could read the many handwritten letters we had exchanged. I read each letter and cried and laughed at how raw and honest we had been with each other. I then destroyed them, as Chuck and I had agreed.

Chuck, or CCB as I always called him, became increasingly religious as he neared the end. He told me about how one night during of his many visits to the hospital, he was in bed praying. He said he began singing, imagining angels around him as he sang. “I didn’t care if anyone heard me or my deaf voice at the time. I just sang, and felt so incredibly connected to God,” he said. The radiance from his face as he told me this story gave me chills.

The last time I saw him was exactly a month before he died. We chatted for two hours via video as he ate soup and fiddled with the baseball cap he had on. Even though I had seen him a few times, it was still always a shock to see how thin he had gotten. I experienced so much joy that night, even as bittersweet as it was. I somehow knew this would be our last face-to-face conversation, but didn’t dare say it.

An e-mail he sent me immediately after our conversation contained his last words to me: “I loved and enjoyed our chat tonight. Love you in peace thru Christ, my true friend. ccb.”

I was among the first to learn of his death on the morning of February 10, 2012. I had slept fitfully all night, knowing he was going to leave us any minute. I sat up in bed, numbed by the text message I had just read. I knew a great spirit had left us, one who was often underappreciated yet was incredibly beloved. A mutual close friend warned me that people would come out of the woodwork once he passed away, and he was right. So many articles, posts and emails were shared about his “greatness” — mostly in reference to his acting and art. All I kept wanting to say was, “But you don’t know how he was so much more than his art. He was a tormented soul who found joy in the littlest things and had so much love for the mind, the soul and God.” It’s taken me this long to even feel comfortable talking about how extraordinary Chuck was.

Chuck Baird with Trudy SuggsWhen I think of Chuck, I remember how he had the chubbiest fingers and how I took pleasure in watching them create masterfully crafted words and art. I think of how we squabbled often, but always quickly soothing the other. I think of how I scolded him for being so tactless — he once said, when I showed him a picture right after the birth of my second child, “Oh my gosh, you look fat!” I think about how he got annoyed with me for being bossy, especially when I lectured him about his weight; our annoyances certainly went both ways. I think about how he had such a passionate spirit. I think about how shockingly salt-and-pepper his hair was and how his beard became the same. I think about how we always laughed at the littlest things.

Mostly, I think about how Chuck showed me what a deep, true friendship is: full of ups and downs, exasperation, delight, wonder, and love all coming together to create a marvelous connection. He was, and is, my heart savior — something that I can never repay him for.

Happy birthday, CCB.

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2014 Holiday Hop: A Spotlight on Deaf-Owned Businesses

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T.S. Writing Services (TSW) and Your Desk’s Assistant (YDA), two deaf-owned small businesses, have come together to create an exciting, never-before event to take place on December 1-14, 2014.

To promote deaf-owned businesses, and to help spread awareness of the fantastic diversity among such businesses, Holiday Hop will showcase different deaf businesses each day. Many have provided items or services for raffle drawings as giveaways. To participate in the Holiday Hop, go to www.facebook.com/deafholidayhop and click LIKE. Be sure to also turn on “GET NOTIFICATIONS” (usually found as a drop-down option in the LIKE/LIKED box on that page) to stay updated.

To enter the raffle, each individual has three opportunities: liking the TSW Facebook page, the YDA Facebook page, and the showcased business Facebook page if there is one.  A new set of businesses will be showcased each day, starting at 1 p.m. Eastern. Each raffle will last for 24 hours, and end the following day at 1 p.m.

There are at least 35 deaf-owned businesses participating to date; we’re thrilled by this tremendous response. So come on over to the Holiday Hop Facebook page and become part of this exciting event!

The Power of the Written Word

My oldest, six years old, has started to understand how powerful the written word can be. I’ve been marveling at her acquisition of English as a second language and remembering my own acquisition. Still, when I saw a piece of paper on my table last summer, I was stunned. My grandmother, 91 years old at the time, was visiting us from Illinois. She and I have always had a very special relationship growing up; I stayed at her house so often that she was like a mother to me. Actually, she still is like a mother to me. She doesn’t sign other than homemade signs, although she says she wishes she did. She’s tried to learn many times, but has never really succeeded.

DSC00379 - Version 2Grandmother learned my mother was deaf when Mom was three. Like so many others back then, she was told to teach my mother to speak instead of sign. I don’t think she ever imagined she’d be the lone hearing person in my family, my children being fourth-generation deaf on their father’s side.   Whenever she’s at my house, she has never once complained when we all sign without including her—although I often feel guilty about that, and always try to have her know what we’re talking about. I remember asking her once at a restaurant when she was the only hearing person in a group of 11 how she felt being the only hearing person. She said, “I think it’s great.”

My children absolutely adore her for so many reasons, and they especially love her “spin” game where she spins the kids around by their legs on any smooth floor. It’s a sight you have to see to believe. The kids clamor for this game the very minute she enters the house, even as big as they are now.

So, last summer, I was cleaning and picking up random pieces of paper from tables and shelves and countertops. I took a second look at the blue piece of paper in front of me, because I recognized Grandmother’s handwriting. I also thought I recognized my writing, from when I was a child. I thought it was from my childhood. It wasn’t. IMG_4158

My heart warmed as I read it more carefully. It was a conversation my oldest had with Grandmother. I immediately reminisced about when I was six years old. My grandparents lived two hours away from me, and I spent practically every weekend and every break with them. I loved being at their house; it was the only stable home I had until I was much older. My best friend lived across the street from my grandparents’ house, and we made up all sorts of creative schemes. And Maid Rite! The best place to eat in Quincy, hands down.

Since my grandparents didn’t sign, and I didn’t speak, we had to find a way to communicate—especially when my mom wasn’t around to interpret. The answer was easy: we wrote back and forth. My granddad was a man of a few words, but full of mischief, which could be seen in how he wrote. My grandmother was always a wordsmith, the poet in the family. She and I would talk for hours. We’d watch THE PRICE IS RIGHT (which wasn’t captioned back then) when she was home from work, and she’d patiently explain the rules to me, or tell me what Bob Barker was saying. In fact, I credit this for much of my English acquisition, along with having ASL as a first language and reading.

IMG_4156When Grandmother tucked me into bed, she would sit next to me and write in a notebook. She’d ask, using rudimentary gestures, “TRUDY TODAY WHAT?” (“What did Trudy do today?”) I’d tell her what I did, and she’d make me fingerspell the words one by one, or she’d write the sentences out and make me read them. It was my all-time favorite activity with my grandmother. Today, the notebooks are my most cherished documentation of my relationship with her. She was the best at doodling next to the sentences, even though she scoffs when I tell her that her drawing skills are awesome. She still doodles on her cards and letters to me, which I get such a kick out of.

Happy 92nd birthday, Grandmother. Thank you for the loving and lasting impact you’ve left not only on me, but on your great-grandchildren as well.

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Preserving Deaf History in Wax: Don Baer

screenshot of Deafwax.comAs I entered the small exhibition area, I  jumped in fright. To my right, there was a person blankly staring at me. Don Baer laughed as I did a double take; I realized (slowly) that it was actually a wax figure of William “Dummy” Hoy that Don had created. The first thing I thought after I looked at the wax figure, “Wow, Hoy was really short.” Even though I had known Hoy was only 5’4”, I was amazed at how much taller I was than him. What was even more remarkable was how I felt as if I could reach out and start signing to Hoy right there and then. That was, and is, the best aspect of Don’s work in creating realistic wax figures: he helped bring Deaf history alive.

When I was Silent News editor in chief, the first public event I attended was the 2000 Deaf Expo in Long Beach, Calif. Everyone there told me I had to see Don’s wax exhibition at the exposition. As I introduced myself to Don, who was also small in stature, he lit up and named a few mutual friends. His wonderful passion set the tone for the tour, and we chatted endlessly as he guided me through the packed exhibition area. I gawked at how realistic the wax figures were, and marveled at Hoy, Juliette Gordon Low, Thomas Gallaudet, Alice Cogswell, and Laurent Clerc. Seeing the figures made my cherished heritage come alive for me. It was obvious from looking at Don’s face, as people continuously marveled at the authentic-looking figures, that their awe was the best part of his hard work.

In a June 2001 Silent News article by Glenn Lockhart, Baer said renowned sculptor Douglas Tilden heavily influenced his work. The article also reported that each sculpture’s process averaged three months of work and over $1,000 on average:

A clay sculpture that serves as a frame for the head is done following dimensions gleaned from the photographs, then a plaster mold is made from it. After the mold has set, it is then emptied of clay and filled with hot wax. After adding glass eyes and hair, some refinement sculpting brings sharp definition to the facial features and a coat of oil glazes the wax, giving it that realistic sheen. A trip to thrift stores to costume the waxen beings is the final touch.

When I learned last week that Don had passed away on Dec. 10 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — also known as Lou Gehring’s disease —  I was, of course, saddened. I have no idea if he would have remembered our visit, but the work he took on left a lasting impact on many people, including me. I hope his work continues to bring history alive for future generations.

Don’s work can be viewed at www.deafwax.com (link is no longer active). 

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The boy at Target

As I sit here working well past midnight, I can’t stop thinking about the most random encounter at Target last Saturday that lasted all of three or four minutes.

My family and I had just arrived at the store, and my younger two were throwing hissy fits over having to sit in the cart (control, folks; carts are how we control our younger kids in stores). My oldest two were pushing each other and giggling. As I attended to the youngest — deeeeep into her terrible twos, which means she screams bloody murder if we try to make her do anything — I saw a father with two kids walking by. The oldest, an adorable boy with the cutest black-rimmed glasses, shaggy short hair, and a green shirt (soccer game, maybe?), kept staring at us. I ignored him at first thinking he was just some hearing kid fascinated by our ASL or our unruly children. But then I looked up, and suddenly noticed his hearing aids with the coolest green ear molds. He had stopped in his tracks, and was watching us intently.

I was trying to calm my daughter down while my husband was herding the other three. As I looked down at my daughter, I could see, and feel, the boy staring at us from maybe five or ten feet away. He seemed to be eight or nine. His father and sibling had already gone into the dollar bins area, and he was standing there, staring at us with so much interest. As I got my daughter happily comfortable in her seat, I mentally debated about how to react to the boy’s gaze. Should I ignore him? Does he know sign language? What if I try to talk to him and his dad gets upset? What if he doesn’t sign and doesn’t understand what I say? What do I do? Are my kids ever going to calm down?

I glanced back at him and gave him a big smile as I snapped my daughter’s cart belt into place. “Hi!!” I signed, looking at him directly.

The biggest smile came over his face as he excitedly signed back, “HI!” Just then, his father came back, looking a bit unhappy at his talking to us. The boy looked reluctant about having to join his family, glancing back at us twice as he walked off. I hoped to see him again in the store so I could talk a bit more with him, but I never saw him again.

I’ve been thinking about him a lot since then. The look on his face was so filled with hunger and hope. It’s a look I’ve seen a million times before, usually on the faces of deaf children (or even adults) meeting other deaf people for the first time. It’s the look of realization that they’re not the only deaf person in the world, that signing is perfectly acceptable and natural, that we’re all incredibly ordinary people just like them. I am so grateful that I have never felt like the only deaf person in the world, because I’ve always had deaf role models around me from day one of my life. I’ve never gone a single day in my life wondering what other deaf people were like or if they even existed.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about my children and their unfiltered, unlimited access to communications 24 hours a day at home and in school. They will not realize for years to come just how fortunate they are, just like my husband and I didn’t realize how fortunate we were to have deaf families and 24-hour access to sign language. I’m extremely grateful that I can chat with and listen to my kids, especially their references to poop and boogers. I’m also fortunate every single person in my household can argue, joke, and love each other without a single communication barrier, even if it means we (namely me) have to be careful what we say at the dinner table because every word we say gets repeated the next day in school, thanks to my children’s eagle eyes.

I hope that the boy in Target is in an environment where he can sign freely and can be as deaf as he wants to be, to whatever degree. Maybe all my assumptions are wrong, and he’s perfectly happy. I just wish I had paid more attention to him once I realized he was deaf. And I so wish I had said hi sooner.

Deaf-Owned Businesses: Graciously Handmade for You by Anita Kroll

First things first: I cannot sew.

My eighth-grade sewing teacher slapped my hand in frustration as she tried to show me how to move a needle through fabric. She was so aghast at how horrible my sewing project turned out, and told me never to sew again.

Good thing I have Anita Kroll, who runs Graciously Handmade for You. She’s made my curtains, Roman shades, house accents, baby mobile, bench cushions, clothes, children’s backpacks, and purses. Oh, yes, purses—including one made out of my grandmother’s skirt. How cool is that?

Red purseLet’s talk purses for a second. As a child, and even into college, I swore I’d never carry purses. Now, I can’t get enough of them. But they have to be practical—with specific pocket types and the right length to easily carry on my shoulder. They also have to be big enough for me to stuff a couple of diapers in while holding my keys, iPhone, wallet and whatever else my children deem necessary.

So when Anita began making purses for sale, I was ecstatic. See, she’s my mom. Aside from that obvious bias, over time, I started to realize that her purses were actually far better than the purses I bought in stores. I told her she should sell them along with all the other amazing things she makes. And she’s started doing so at her Etsy shop.

An interior designer from Cary, Ill., Anita started to sew when she was 10 years old so she could make her own clothes. (My grandmother doesn’t sew, either. Unless it’s hemming or sewing buttons back on…which makes her far better at sewing than me.) Over the years, it became a therapeutic hobby for Anita. “I love sewing because it lets me use my creativity and ideas, while also giving me the calmness and harmony we all need in our lives,” she says. “Like my daddy always said about me, when I was upset or worrying, I went to my sewing machine for comfort. I still do that.”

Baby sit-up donutAnita’s impressive product line-up includes everything from purses to handcrafted items to bench cushions to table runners to quilts. (The photo at left is a baby sit-up donut. My youngest absolutely loved hers when she was a baby.) She works hard to ensure that each product she makes is unique. “I use fabrics only once for each product. No two products are alike, whether it is different fabrics, different pockets, accents, appliqués and so on.”

Anita either chooses durable fabrics to incorporate, or uses fabrics that customers purchase or request. Customers can choose their colors, ask that Anita make items using specific fabrics, or request pretty much anything they want. ”Creating things is a way I express myself, and I strongly believe that handmade products last longer because they are carefully crafted every inch of the way.”

Burlap pillowAnita often uses her own patterns and systems for creating products, and intends to start selling her patterns on Etsy. “The problem I have now is I have way too many ideas and projects that I want to do. There’s not enough time in the world for me to do them all because I always prefer to do customers’ work first—which is a great problem to have,” she says with a laugh. “It makes me feel great that I can create things by hand, and they makes for super gifts that are of superior quality and last much longer.”

Anita’s shop is at www.etsy.com/shop/graciouslyhandmade4u, and she has a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/graciouslyhandmade4u.

Deaf-Owned Businesses: Heidi’s Bead Jewelry

trudysnecklaceI ripped open the packet excitedly. I’d wanted to buy Heidi Branch’s amazing, handmade jewelry for quite some time, but every piece I liked was always snapped up quickly by other customers.

I finally managed to order two pieces recently, and hoped they were all they seemed to be. When I received the earrings and necklace (see picture) just a couple of days later, I was pleased not only with the quality but also the packaging.  I wore the necklace a few days later, and got so many comments on it. Beautifully crafted, the necklace didn’t feel loose or as if it were going to fall apart, like a lot of handmade jewelry. The earrings were also easy to wear.

Coincidentally, I gave a presentation at a conference today, and ran into an old friend. I noticed she had a beautiful necklace on and told her I loved it. She lit up and said it was from Heidi, and that she wore it often even though she had gotten it five years ago. I told her that I had actually worn the new necklace earlier that day, and that I was in love with it.

Heidi started making jewelry when she was 14 at camp, but began selling her work about eight years ago. She has taken classes, and invests only in high-quality beads and materials. “I’ve become a regular at the local bead store, which is really convenient because every time I go in, the people who work there know who I am,” she says with a laugh.

Heidi Branch

Heidi Branch

Heidi, who lives in the Clearwater, Fla., area, says that she tries to have at least 20 designs available each month. “Every design I make is unique, one-of-a-kind,” she says. “I also make custom pieces, and can repurpose jewelry such as an old family heirloom like a brooch or necklace. I can make it into a modern necklace with the design of the customer’s choice, or do different things with it. So even though I have 20 designs available a month, I do a lot of work along with that. I love it.”

She also makes bracelets in addition to her stunning necklaces and earrings. Among the benefits of her products is that she will repair her custom jewelry immediately in the rare event that they break.

My family won’t have to struggle with what to buy me for birthdays and holidays anymore. I just want a Heidi Branch piece.

Check Heidi’s page at  www.facebook.com/HeidisBeadJewelry.

The fight of her life: Ronda Kopatich-Johnson

Ronda Kopatich-Johnson was my children’s teacher aide last year in preschool, and my children went gaga over her. My children came home with new words every single day. I could easily identify the words that came from Ronda, because of the signing style–and that always made me smile. They ask about Ronda every day, and talk about stories she told them such as her trip to Hawaii. She is gentle, loving, and firm but so incredibly sweet and giving. I could list a million positive adjectives about her, and I still wouldn’t get to the heart of who she is. So let me share a story.

Last year, my children’s school hosted a regional basketball tournament. The school gym is straight out of a movie–it is old, with a wooden, low ceiling that volleyball players use to their advantage during matches. The bleachers shake whenever people climb them, and reverberate with amazing energy when fans cheer. During the tournament, I realized my older daughter was nowhere to be seen, and I figured she was probably in the gym basement, playing with other children. I walked down to check on her, and saw a sight I’ll never forget.

About 15, maybe 20, children–both deaf and hearing–were seated in a circle. Ronda was explaining the rules for Duck, Duck, Goose to the captivated children. I watched from a distance as she taught them and then joined in on the fun.

Nobody asked her to do this, but Ronda knew the children were in need of activities after being cooped up in the gym all day long. Never mind that she already worked with preschoolers all week, and this was her time off.  After a while, I asked if she was all right, if she needed me to get the other parents so that she could watch the game; she was, and is, a renowned basketball player, and I knew how important basketball is to her. She shook her head and said she was just fine, that she was happy to help parents, including me, get a little respite.

I couldn’t stop thinking about this amazing deed on her part, because upstairs, there were hundreds of parents enjoying the games, clueless to the fact that one woman had chosen to go downstairs and entertain children who weren’t hers.

That, my friends, is what a true role model is.

Ronda is now fighting the harshest battle of her life: cancer. Since she is not covered by her wife’s health insurance, they have to pay for her medical expenses out of pocket. She was in the hospital for more than a month, days away from death. She is now home, and slowly but surely fighting her way back to “normal” (whatever that is). Her family is amazingly devoted to her recovery, especially her wife, Kelly.

Maybe you could spare a dollar or two, and help. Go to www.giveforward.com/rondakopatichjohnsonfund and read more there.

My children are really looking forward to having Ronda back at school. I am, too.

Update: The donation website is now inactive. Ronda passed away on July 18, 2013, and fought to the very end.

A Year Later: “Deeply Disappointed” But Optimistic (Part II)

This article originally appeared at www.deafprofessional.net.

An exclusive interview with Dr. Glenn Anderson

This is the second installment of a two-part article. The first installment appeared on September 7, 2006.

When Dr. Anderson stepped down as Gallaudet University board chair in November 2005 in order to apply for the university presidency, his interim replacement was Celia May Baldwin, a 1970 Gallaudet graduate. However, facing the wrath and scrutiny of thousands of people infuriated by the presidential search process and selection was too much for Baldwin, who resigned on May 9. “My heart goes out to her,” Dr. Anderson says, noting that their friendship dates back to their days as Gallaudet undergraduates. “She did not deserve to have her tenure as interim chair of the board cut short due to threats and duress related to the search process.”

Baldwin’s replacement was acting board president, Dr. Brenda Jo Brueggemann, who seemed an unusual choice, given her mediocre (or some claim, utter lack of) sign language skills. Yet, in what seems to be a twist of irony, Dr. Brueggemann chairs the American Sign Language (ASL) department at Ohio State University. Dr. Anderson is philosophical about her appointment. “Dr. Brueggemann is in an unenviable position. I doubt she imagined herself suddenly being thrust into position of chair at this point in her tenure of service on the board.” He adds that a new chair will likely be chosen soon; board guidelines dictate that the permanent chair be someone who is fluent in ASL and preferably deaf.

Today, more than a year after President Jordan’s predictable announcement, Dr. Anderson has had time to reflect. Would he have made the same choices as the board had he stayed in his position as chair? His answer may surprise people who think Dr. Anderson was “Gallaudetized”—that is, constantly going along with the university’s status quo.

“Your question calls for speculation and that is always a risky type of venture,” he answers. “Evidently, I would not have been happy with the announcement of the three finalists. I would have expected more and I would not have supported going forward with the three finalists selected by the search committee at the time they did. My preference would have been to ask the board to support requesting the search committee to extend the search. I would have preferred closer adherence to searching for a pool of candidates who possessed the desired qualifications listed in the position announcement—e.g., significant experience in higher education and possessing an earned terminal degree. And at this time in our history, I would also have preferred more intense efforts be made to ensure diversity was adequately reflected among the candidates.”

Throughout all this, Dr. Fernandes has continued to be a chief source of discontent for FSSA, who continued to meet throughout the summer and presented two workshops at the National Association of the Deaf conference. Members of FSSA insist that President Jordan ignored many of their requests and pleas over the years, especially after Dr. Fernandes became provost of the university. Blog after blog states specific examples of how Dr. Fernandes created a great divide among students and faculty and the administration while President Jordan turned a blind eye. Dr. Anderson is hesitant to speculate yet once again. “I believe one has to be on campus on a daily basis to have insight into this. Dr. Jordan’s legacy was already well established as a result of the success of Deaf President Now and his phenomenal achievements during his nearly 18 years as president. However, as he nears the end of his tenure at Gallaudet, it is regretful that the university finds itself mired in divisiveness over the selection of a successor.”

Even so, this division is why Dr. Anderson and 1988-1994 board chair Phil Bravin wrote an open letter to the board last May. Parts of the letter read:

As former chairs of the Gallaudet Board of Trustees, we are looking at the present situation with a heavy heart, knowing how the Board needs to show its resolve and at the same time act in the best interests of the University… (The full letter may be read here).

In any event, we are leaning towards the position that this is not a deafness or cultural issue, but is emerging as a leadership issue and more importantly, the ability to maintain leadership over time in the next weeks, months and years to come.

The events of the past week and a half has caused great concern on our part of the long term bridges that Gallaudet has to maintain with its constituencies. These bridges have been weakened, and the current state of affairs, if not changed, will cause these bridges to weaken further, and to rebuild these would require more energy and effort that could otherwise be used to make Gallaudet the great University it deserves to be.

…we urge you to do your very best to resolve the current stalemate and reach resolutions that are in the best interests of the University. The time is now to begin a process of healing.

“I believe the message that Phil and I attempted to convey in our letter to the board last May remains timely and relevant today,” Dr. Anderson states. “I would much rather the final months of Jordan’s tenure be a time for reflection and celebration of his long and illustrious career as the university transitions to a new era of presidential leadership.”

Bonded by their Gallaudet ties and love of sports, Dr. Anderson and President Jordan were often seen together at events around the country. Now that Dr. Anderson is no longer a member of the Board of Trustees, he admits he misses the regular interactions he had with President Jordan. “My years of working closely with him on behalf of our alma mater were special and I will always treasure that,” he says thoughtfully. “I know Dr. Jordan is deeply committed to Gallaudet and it is commendable that he plans to continue to serve the university long after he retires. Since we have known each other since our college days, I am not inclined to presume my friendship with Dr. Jordan has been adversely affected by the outcome of the search process. I simply wish the search process had resulted in a more celebratory type of outcome that united rather than divided Gallaudet and its constituencies.”

Dr. Anderson also wants to believe President Jordan’s claim that he had no involvement in the selection of the finalists. “I think the real issue has more to do with what occurred after the three finalists were announced and forums were held on campus. I am aware there has been a persistent barrage of comments, on the Internet for example, in which people wondered about his neutrality,” Dr. Anderson says. “Some feel he was not sufficiently neutral during the search process. Whether he was or not, I do not know. However, these concerns continue to persist and have yet to subside. As a result, I think these concerns are additional factors that contributed to the lack of broad unanimity regarding the search process.”

Today, although still perplexed about the search process, Dr. Anderson is content with his contributions to Gallaudet. “I was pleased to work with Dr. Jordan, the Development Office, the Board of Trustees, the Board of Associates, and numerous Gallaudet stakeholders in support of the first and most successful capital campaign that resulted in over $39 million in contributions.” He adds that another accomplishment was forming a board ad hoc committee that resulted in the development of a board statement on diversity. “I also take pride in the fact that during my tenure, Dr. Jordan gave high priority to recruiting outstanding students and faculty as well as to enhancing and ensuring the attractiveness of the university’s campus as new buildings and renovation projects were undertaken.”

In spite of the developments over the past year, Dr. Anderson continues to be upbeat about what the future holds. “I will remain busy as ever. Most certainly, I will continue my work at the University of Arkansas. We have submitted new federal funding applications and I am excited about the new projects we have proposed,” he says. “I also will continue to serve as vice-chair of the National Council on Disability as well as remain actively involved as a board member with NBDA and the Arkansas Association of the Deaf.” He notes that both he and his wife, Karen, are eager about attending University of Arkansas football games, where their son, Jamaal, is a junior and a starting defensive end. He also looks forward to having more time to spend with their daughter, Danielle and 10-year-old granddaughter Nia, who reside in Virginia.

Optimistic that Gallaudet can heal from this search process, Dr. Anderson is still somewhat cautious. “As Phil and I mentioned in our letter, it will take much hard work, good faith, and give and take from all concerned parties,” he says. “The question is how quickly Gallaudet can heal. That I do not know, but I do hope it happens soon.”

Note: National Black Deaf Advocates was contacted for this article; they did not return our requests. NBDA’s open letters and position papers regarding the presidential search process may be found at their website.

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