Deaf Nation Expo Arrives at RIT
by Juan Lachapelle | published Sep. 28th, 2013
The question “Are you deaf?” became the question “Are you hearing?” the second I stepped into the Gordon Field House on September 21. I was greeted — in ASL — by the brothers of the Sigma Nu fraternity and the sisters of the Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority asking if I was registered as I tried to say that I could not sign at all. While in line, all instructions were communicated in ASL as I directed myself to the registration booth. Accompanied by two interpreters, I went on my way.
In 2003 Joel and Jed Barish became the founders DeafNation Inc, which covers various news videos and events for the greater Deaf and hard-of-hearing community. The DeafNation expo is an annual tour of 15 expos across the United States hoping to connect Deaf and hard-of-hearing folk together. According to DeafNation’s website, the event is free in an attempt to encourage the “diversity of attendees who can share our culture, needs, language and information.”
My eyes were first went to a large, bright yellow booth labeled Sorenson, showing off their video relay service (VRS) and product while handling a raffle for prizes to visitors. There was also a souvenir booth made up of shirts with parodies (Keep Calm, I know Sign Language) and other ASL trinkets. Sprint and Verizon came with special services and plans to benefit deaf and hard-of-hearing people, many of which I had no idea existed.
I observed a booth trying to convince bystanders to see if they could hear words through the use of bone conduction technology, and to my surprise many of them could. I walked by a vitamin and supplement booth, reached a scuba diving adventures area, cleaned my glasses lens with a complementary cloth by Purple (another VRS and a video remote interpreting service) and saw the rear end of a man wearing a orange morph suit advertising The Z, another VRS.
My opportunity to speak came two hours after the start of the event as I was drawn into a conversation with a young Christian boy who was helping his father recruit people to his church which has interpreting services. His fluency in sign and love for Deaf culture lead him to the expo to talk and see what the rest of the community is like. He walked me through his booth of pamphlets, DVDs and a box labeled, “The real reason Jesus died.”
Who would be the kind of people interested in an expo besides deaf and hard-of-hearing? I saw various couples looking to get more information on communication services and schools for their deaf children, friends who were convinced by their deaf friends to attend and learn more about the culture and there were ones, like myself, who are generally interested in learning more about Deaf culture.
It didn’t take me long to realize the expo is about Deaf culture in all of its greatness. Though not advertised, the expo can help break barriers between hearing and non-hearing folk. There was plenty of technology of video relay services and ways to help the deaf communicate more comfortably. Even with my below-novice level of sign language, attendees and exhibitors alike were friendly and open to conversation. Even as I left, more and more attendees arrived to see what the expo was all about. I hope to have the opportunity to come back to the expo next year and communicate more with the individuals of this culture.