Lack of people to sign with, strike frustrate deaf children
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By Yasmin Anwar
Advertiser Staff Writer
Trey Balding's fingers flew across the keyboard of his teletypewriter as he tried to reach his buddy, Bryce, school principal Jeanne Prickett heck, anyone who spoke his language.
"I want to go back to school," signed Balding, among 83 students shut out from the Hawai'i Center for the Deaf and Blind since April 5 because of the teachers strike against the state public schools.
Unlike most kids his age, Balding can't just call his friends on the telephone.
He can talk to his mom, who is fluent in American Sign Language.
As the strike drags on, however, Mary Balding is growing weary of being his full-time interpreter.
If being away from school is tough for Balding, he can't imagine what it's like for his schoolmates whose parents don't sign.
"I guess I'm lucky because my parents accept me for who I am," signed Balding, born deaf to hearing parents who are both fluent in ASL.
For many students of the Center for the Deaf and Blind, the campus in Kapahulu is the center of their social life and haven from the hearing world. That makes their present state of exile even more painful.
"They're feeling sad and confused," said Mayra Rosada, a 35-year-old native New Yorker who teaches science and deaf culture at the Center for the Deaf and Blind, and who is deaf herself.
About 90 percent of the parents can hear, but are not fluent in sign language, said Prickett, the school's administrator. These parents are limited to the most basic signing, such as "time for bed" and "time to eat."
Although ASL classes are offered in Hawai'i, teachers say other factors, such as poverty, learning difficulties and low self-esteem maintain the language barriers between deaf children and their parents.
About 10 percent of the center's students are from the Marshall Islands. One-third are recent immi-grants, and more than half qualify for the federal lunch program.
Charlotte Momosea, whose 7-year-old grandson, Aaron, attends the school, knows the frustrations of not knowing ASL.
"Even when he tries to tell me something, he gets very frustrated," she said.
The last time Hawai'i's public schoolteachers threatened to strike, in 1997, nine teachers at the school were declared "essential" and ordered to hold classes for health and safety reasons.
That's not the case in the present standoff between Gov. Ben Cayetano and the Hawaii School Teachers Association. Two dozen teachers at the Center for the Deaf and Blind are on strike, and they say that's the way it should be.
"We're no more essential than other teachers," said Michele Morris, a high school English teacher at the center.
Some teachers have subtly used ASL on the picket line to express their frustration with the impasse, distorting Cayetano's name to mean "numbskull, bad, lousy."
Their students, meanwhile, have learned the ASL symbol for strike, in which the left arm is bent at a right angle with the back of the left hand touching the right elbow, while the right hand is clenched in a fist that turns defiantly to the side.
"I'm not mad at the teachers. I'm mad at the governor," Balding signed.