The 190 participants at the Midwest Regional Deaf Conference were a varied group.
One workshop leader at the conference, held in mid-April, plans to become a Jewish rabbi. Another participant, a Catholic nun, came from Missouri with her LDS friends to improve her sign language skills. One man is an acclaimed professional whose efforts have resulted in increased access to communication for the deaf in Illinois. One couple are newlyweds (married Dec. 28, 1991) and new members of the Church (baptized Dec. 29); they attended the conference as a wedding present.When Brad and Charlie Orsburn of the Hyde Park Ward, Chicago Heights Illinois Stake, came up with the idea for having the conference, they wanted to address issues common to all involved in the deaf community who live in the Chicago Illinois Temple District. They wanted to include member and non-member alike, adult and child, the hearing and the deaf.
The conference's planning committee chose the title "Turn Your Hearts" to focus on strengthening family bonds and turning toward all others with love, respect and recognition of divine potential. The committee's goals for the conference included providing practical, legal and emotional support to the deaf, as well as spiritual enrichment.
The broad range of workshops and activities reflected the conference theme.
Alan Abarbanell, deaf services communications coordinator for Access Living (a Chicago area center for advocacy and education), led workshops on parent/child issues. Mr. Abarbanell is a student at the Hebrew Seminary for the Deaf in Skokie, Ill., and is a hearing son of deaf parents. He brought his own poignant insights to sessions he held separately for adults and children.
The national chairman of the Youth Committee for Children of Deaf Adults, Mr. Abarbanell said: "The issues of deafness affect families in deep ways."
Among both the deaf and hearing parents the issue of communication is the key. One thing that is really important is love within the family and instilling a sense of pride. One thing I stress to everybody is to have pride in yourself, in your family, and in your culture."
Nanette Hix, an instructor at BYU and a former Miss Deaf Utah, fostered a sense of self-esteem in her multi-media workshop on deaf culture. She said: "There are differences between the hearing culture and the deaf culture. When people understand and respect their culture, they will be able to understand themselves better too."
In her presentation, Carolyn Ball, an American Sign Language instructor at BYU, explained that hearing people's role is to support, not overpower; to respect and encourage, not to pity. She said she is happy that more people are interested in "the beautiful language of signing." She emphasized, however, that just knowing a few signs is not enough to meet a deaf person's needs. Meeting their needs, she explained, takes love and understanding of the person and his or her culture.
Thomas Benziger, the deaf services coordinator for Access Living and a nationally noted advocate for deaf rights, gave practical aid in his explanation of the American Disabilities Act. Guiding conference participants through proven strategies toward equal access to communication at schools, hospitals and other public agencies, Mr. Benziger stressed the importance of positive attitudes. "Self-esteem is very important."
Jack Rose, a member of BYU's linguistics department, spoke about the current project of translating the Book of Mormon into American Sign Language. Citing the work of the Omega Project in Nebraska to translate the Bible into ASL, he explained some of the differences.
"The requirements for translating the Book of Mormon are very strict," he said. "It must maintain the original style of the writer – like Nephi or Mosiah. It must also maintain the Hebrew style. There are many things that are Hebrew that you don't notice until you start translating. And you have to keep Joseph Smith's translating style as well."
Brother Rose explained that filming a segment of the Book of Mormon into ASL is a very complicated process. If there is a single wrong expression of the eye, tilt of the head, or sign that is not 100 percent accurate, the film has to be redone. Completion of the project, he indicated, is still some years away.
When asked why the Book of Mormon needs to be translated into ASL when it already is available in print for the deaf to read, Brother Rose referred to Christ's admonition that the gospel be preached to every people in their own language. Sister Ball explained that ASL is a separate language with its own grammatical structure and form, not a kind of "broken English."
Focusing on another aspect of the phrase "Turn Your Hearts," 112 out of the 190 conference participants attended the Chicago Illinois Temple Saturday afternoon of the conference, hosted by the Chicago Heights Illinois Stake. The conference concluded with a fast and testimony meeting on Sunday.
Pres. and Sister Kenneth Neeley of the Illinois Chicago Mission , wanting to leave something of themselves in the Chicago area when they finish their mission this summer, established ongoing scholarship funds to promote strength, esteem and skill among the Midwest deaf community.
Recipient of the Robert K. Neeley Scholarships (named in honor of a son who died) were Diane Tekippe of Dubuque, Iowa, for the adult division, and Daniel Frame of Lansing, Kan., for the youth division. Joan Parks of Joliet, Ill., received the Rancom Scholarship for interpreters. The scholarships are open to non-members of the Church as well as to members.