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Public invited to ‘Deaf Life: Get to Know It’ event

By Staff | Sep 19, 2019

Lee County’s first-ever “Deaf Life: Get to Know It” event is set for Saturday.

Owner of Old Soul Brewing, Mike Schmidt, and the Sally J. Pimentel Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center, will host the free event, which starts at noon.

Deaf Life: Get to Know It will feature American Sign Language (ASL) classes, speakers and a panel about deaf culture, face painting and other activities for kids, and a special newly released beer called Grateful Deaf.

The panel will consist of members of the community. They’ll talk about experiences they’ve had and answer questions.

The event is held this month because September is Deaf Awareness Month.

“We want it to be a fun day,” said Alicia Miller. “Raise awareness for the community and anyone interested in learning more about it.”

Miller, the executive director for the Sally J. Pimentel Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center, is hoping for 100 to 150 people to attend. The brewery is also open regular hours so, “anyone who comes in can join in as well.”

The center is working to improve the quality of life for deaf and hard of hearing citizens and their families through services, education, advocacy and community involvement.

Schmidt is an advocate for the deaf and ASL community.

He has been losing his hearing since he was about 30 years old. At 40, he had hearing aids. At 51, he got a cochlear implant. In a year, he thinks he’ll get the other side done.

He began learning ASL from the deaf and hard of hearing center about 15 years ago. Up until recently he was the president of the board of trustees.

Schmidt says Deaf Life is to educate people who want to know more about the deaf community and deaf culture.

“So, they can take this time and communicate with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing. They can get information if they have someone in their family who is deaf and get a better understanding from a different viewpoint.”

“There is such a thing as a deaf community or deaf culture everywhere you go,” he said. “If they want to understand the deaf culture better they should be here and plug in for a little bit of time and take something out of it.”

Schmidt also wants to stress the importance of ASL.

One day he went to pick up something he printed online for his brewery. His implant was broken, which meant he couldn’t hear.

Schmidt told the associate he was deaf and couldn’t understand what she was saying.

All it took was a few simple hand motions to get the conversation back on track.

“I told her I didn’t understand a word she said and she signed “name” in American Sign Language. Just her knowing that one sign put us on track so we could communicate better,” he said. “So, it’s an amazing thing.”

The other day Schmidt said he had a conversation with someone from 100 feet away.

“She was in her car in the parking lot and we just signed back and forth. Hearing people can enjoy that same versatile part of deaf language.”

Anyone 21 or older who learns how to sign their name in ASL on Saturday will get one free beer. Donations from the bourbon barrel aged stout will be taken for the deaf and hard of hearing center.

Schmidt described Grateful Deaf as a wine tasting yeast with a beer grain to it and a bourbon barrel flavor.

“It’s really amazing,” he said.

Attendees will be able to use earplugs and see if they can communicate without being able to hear.

“Get a feel for what it’s like to be a deaf person,” Miller said.

When kids get their face painted they will get a chance to learn how to sign what’s painted on their face.

People will be able to learn how to sign their name. There will also be a kids coloring book activity with signs and sign language letters on them to color in.

As far as a takeaway from the event, Miller says it would be really helpful if people could learn some very basic sign language.

“Even if it’s just ‘hi, how are you,'” she said. “And to not be intimidated. Most deaf people appreciate people trying to communicate with them.

“Be patient and if you see someone signing in the community, go say hi. They would appreciate that instead of being ignored.”

Miller says the biggest thing to know is that a deaf person can do anything a hearing person can do.

“It’s a big misconception that a deaf person can’t drive. They can. They can get their degree. They can do everything a hearing person can do.”

Schmidt says part of the challenge is that you can’t see deafness.

“People don’t see it and they don’t know the depth of it so they don’t understand it,” he said.

He hopes Saturday’s event will change that perception.

“It’s just one person at a time. If you can change the way one person thinks. Maybe they can change a few people.”

Old Soul Brewing is at 10970 South Cleveland Avenue, Fort Myers.