Deaf Adult Services reaches across region

Feb 22, 2012

For Western New Yorkers suffering total hearing loss or partial deafness, a local agency is there to help.

Deaf Adult Services is a unique organization that reaches throughout the eight counties of Western New York. The agency has a back story behind those who work there and use their services. Deaf Adult Services or DAS is one of the region's predominate hearing loss agencies.

Development Coordinator of DAS Emily Tennant-Koller said the organization offers a number of services. She said they teach American Sign Language; help the deaf with resume building, interview preparation and job placement.

"When someone comes in, he feels alone, not exactly sure where to turn to. He's got a family that he wants to take care of and we're able to show them that they not going to be alone that there's services out there, there's support out there and they walk in and they see deaf and hard of hearing people that are productive and successful, and they have great jobs, they have great lives and I think that it can give them hope," said Tennant-Koller.

Their mission statement is to bridge the gap between the deaf, hard of hearing and hearing communities.

They help people get the assisted technology that they need; video phones, lighted door bells and smoke alarms, vibrating alarm clocks and baby signalers.

Tennant-Koller said they also help people get grants to pay for all those things.

"There's so many ways out there that through technology that they can live there life to the fullest and we have someone on staff that is able to individualize that for them and come to their home and see what sorts of things they need," said Tennant-Koller.

Deaf Adult Services is a non-profit organization; they rely on state grants and fundraising for their services.

Tennant-Koller said they also contract out interpreters for any occasion. She says any business or person can request one.

“Anything from a concert, a rock concert to a birth. So they really run the gamete of where they interpret," said Tennant-Koller.

Keith Marshall is among the many that use DAS. He lost his hearing after being diagnosed with meniere's disease two years ago. Marshall said he and his wife have been learning sign language together.

"We do a lot of finger spelling to kind of fill in the gaps, a key is definitely looking at each other, making eye contact and filling in any kind of blanks. But she knows that if she's not looking at me I have no awareness of really what you’re saying other than maybe a word or two out of say five to seven. I still struggle with my daughter, to compensate she's smart enough that she'll pull me by the finger and lead me to what she wants to do," said Marshall.

Marshall said DAS has helped him communicate with his family again. He said he's also met so many people who have made him feel at ease.

“You're not alone there's hope, there's help, there's understanding, there's just so much more of a world… I may not hear but I will be heard," said Marshall.

 Marshall said since he's lost his hearing his other senses have sharpened.

“People would stand outside my door, the doorbell would ring and I never heard it. I would often times lose my daughter in the house; I would turn around and be like where'd she go. So I've learned to kind of cope through more visual stimuli and other senses as-well," said Marshall.

Before losing his hearing Marshall was a preschool teacher.

"Do you think you'll ever teach again?" asked Hassett .

“I don't rule it out, it's certainly something that I've given a lot of thought to. I've enjoyed teaching for years, I've always no matter what I've done enjoyed helping others so it certainly is a possibility one in which I'm not going to close the door on, but I need to get from here to get to there. So I certainly would enjoy it very much," said Marshall.

Another service DAS provides is for children of deaf adults.  Amy Ferris is director of communication services.  She's not only a DAS employee, but a CODA or Child of a Deaf Adult.  Since she was born, Ferris has been fully expected in the deaf community even though she can hear.    

"ASL was my first language, I learned English as a second language. I had already had language when I went into school so they saw that I was intelligent but, I had a hard time using English. So, although I was gifted and talented I was in remedial English,” said Ferris.

Ferris said growing up with two deaf parents was not challenging, but it was actually those who could hear that seemed strange to her.  Ferris now serves as an advocate for the deaf.

"People need to understand that American Sign Language is a language and that people who use it don't understand English necessarily. It always pains me when people say oh well they can read my lips or oh they can write on a piece of paper and that's great for people who have a strong base in English, but that's not all the deaf people in the word. Most of them use sign language as their base language and then English as a secondary language. So if you think about it as somebody. Ferris said DAS won’t turn anyone coming from another country where there English isn't so great, that's the same idea for a deaf person," said Ferris.

Ferris said DAS won’t turn anyone away who is willing and wants to learn sign language.