Hundreds of members from the deaf community gathered in Van Nuys on Saturday to invite Los Angeles county residents into a world without sound at the DEAFestival.
An intimate scene composed of diverse faces, youth and elders created a comfortable environment for intense conversations, but few words were spoken. Looking down the isles of blue tents and vendors, for most hearing people the quiet festival atmosphere might have been unusual. Sign language was the main method of communication.
The DEAFestival, sponsored by the City of Los Angeles celebrated its fifth year educating the public about resources and innovative technology available for the hearing impaired. At the event, various achievements and talents within the deaf community were also recognized.
Bertha Velazquez, event director for the festival became involved with the program in 1998. “I was having a hard time finding resources for my daughter who is deaf,” Velazquez reflects. She says the awareness program began as a modest meeting in the parking lot of the small Chicano Self Help Graphics facility in South Los Angeles 10 years ago. “There is a need for awareness for deaf and hearing people. Many are not aware of city services,” she adds.
Michael Agyin, DEAFestival outreach coordinator, says that there is a lack of awareness especially within the minority population, but when it comes down to it, “it’s not about Asian, black or white in this community.” Overall, the program’s purpose is to educate and unite people who are experiencing hearing loss.
When asked about the greatest issue deaf and hard of hearing people face, employment was emphasized the most. Richard Ray, Deaf Services Coordinator of the Los Angeles Department on Disabilities says, “We need to encourage hearing people to accept the deaf community.” He says the workforce is intimidated and hesitant to hire deaf people because they cannot afford the accommodations. Ray retorts explaining that L.A. City provides sign language interpreters at an affordable price. He also says that inexpensive technology allows hearing and deaf people to communicate. “A goal is to organize and educate companies to emphasize that there is a strong deaf community workforce,” says Ray.
Deanne Bray, a deaf actress on the cable series “FBEye” is a community shero, as she has broken the mold and made a way for deaf people in the movie and work industry.
Agyin expresses his frustration, explaining that there are very few achieved deaf role models, especially in the university sector. “Deaf students are often hesitant to go to college because of the lack of acceptance and resources,” he says. Ultimately, Agyin wants to see changes made in society where the hearing impaired may mingle with the larger population. With passion in his eyes, he explains that as a deaf African American, he struggles with gaining ground in the political and corporate sector. He often becomes wary and wants to throw in the towel, but he remembers, “If I don’t do it, who else is going to do it?”
Because of its pioneering nature and unique qualities, the DEAFestival has inspired cities across the nation to rev-up in the same way. For more information, visit deafestivalla.org.