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The Deaf Way II
Reader: Perspectives from the Second International Conference on Deaf Culture|
When I became the president of South Dakota Association of the Deaf (SDAD), I studied the organizationís history, the organizationís structure, and everything that it stood for. They have fought for individualsí rights since it began in 1902. It was located in a very rural area, and many people would travel one hundred miles on horse and buggy just to gather and attend conferences. My father was involved with the organization, and again, I wanted to follow in his footsteps. When I was able to become the president of this group, we helped establish Communication Service for the Deaf, Inc. (CSD). As a result, I was asked to become the CEO, and John Buckmaster took my place as president of SDAD. He was a tremendous influence on me, a wonderful advocate fighting for the rights of deaf individuals who always listened to their needs and always was willing to stand by the deaf community, willing to testify. He was very heavily involved with the American Athletic Association of the Deaf (AAAD). A lot of people consider him to be the father of the AAAD softball and baseball tournaments. And he was just a simple potato farmer. When he was the president of SDAD and I was the CEO of our organization, we started a very close journey together that would last for many years, and we worked with many fine individuals. Many of these individuals are in the audience today. They are the people who established a very strong foundation for CSD, and that is why CSD is where it is today.
Another thing I would like to tell you about is the value of the community. After I came back from Gallaudet University, I returned to the South Dakota deaf community. They had a softball team, social events, and a very small core of probably forty or fifty deaf people living in the local town. Most of these deaf people worked at John Morrell & Company, a meatpacking plant that was one of the largest and highest-paying employers in the area. I became employed there myself, because I wanted to be with the rest of the group, and it was a wonderful experience. During our break times, we would get together and chat about deaf issues and plan deaf events and sport activities. When we were not doing this at work, we were doing this on the weekends at a deaf club located on the third floor of a downtown building.
One day, we were informed that we were no longer able to hold our deaf club meetings there because the building was no longer safe for use. We decided to relocate the club, and that is where the community found a beginning. Until that point we took it for granted that we would have a place to congregate, but now there was an issue placed before us. We were challenged with meeting an immediate need for the greater good of the group. What were we going to do? We had to find a solution, and we did just that. We worked quickly and efficiently. We found an old army barracks that was in disrepair, and that is where it started. We were challenged, we had a vision, we knew what this deaf club would look like, and we worked very, very hard to create what we thought was one of the most beautiful deaf clubs around. This seemingly insignificant event encouraged us. We realized what we could do if we worked together. We began to seriously discuss other issues facing the deaf community: the lack of interpreting services or community support services and meeting the needs that many individuals had. We went to the SDAD convention at that time and discussed how we could better our lives. We then pursued funding avenues with the state and with other organizations and started a snowball affect. My main point is the value of community.
I went to a National Association of the Deaf (NAD) conference in my younger years, and I fell in love with the NAD goals and mission, their objectives. Later, when the NAD was experiencing a very difficult time in their history, dealing with finances, staffing, programs, and a myriad of other issues, I was given a chance to join their board. We worked hard and long to address the issues, and it was a wonderful growing and developing experience for me. We continued our efforts to find solutions and address the issues, including the education of deaf children, cochlear implants, and a wide variety of other important national issues. We worked on finding new sources of funding and reorganizing the structure of the NAD organization. I believed that we could make a difference in the lives of deaf and hard of hearing people on a greater, national level. We still faced many, many barriers and discrimination, and I knew that the NAD alone could not do the job itself. It required a lot of peopleópeople from the local level to the national level working together. We established the State Association Presidents Conference (SAPC) to encourage this. We thought that this would be a way of improving communication and involvement. The SAPC was very successful, it still is today, and we have seen improvements in communication among the national, state, and local levels. A lot of communication is taking place through the Internet.