Plight of deaf is focus of talk

Roz Rosen interacts with audience members during the first Florida Statewide Leadership Conference for Collegiate Students with Disabilities held Saturday evening at the Reitz Union. Rosen, a professor at Gallaudet University, spoke at the conference about her experiences within the deaf community.

ANDRA PARRISH/Special to The Sun
Published: Sunday, January 26, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 26, 2003 at 1:07 a.m.

The podium microphone was turned off, but her message filled the room.

"How do I sound?" Roz Rosen queried in American Sign Language, while a translator spoke her words to the 100 or so people sitting attentively inside the Reitz Union at the University of Florida. "Do I sound good?"

Kicking off the university's annual People Awareness Week, Rosen, professor and former vice president at Gallaudet University for the deaf in Washington, D.C., reflected on challenges to the world's deaf community and offered suggestions on how to improve one's life despite physical and hearing disabilities.

"In Mexico, they don't have accessibility, they don't have curb cuts, they don't have programs," Rosen signed.

But Mexico isn't alone in its deaf-friendly deficiencies. Eighty percent of the world's deaf live in developing countries, Rosen said.

And of those, nearly 80 percent have never received an education, she said.

"I could go on forever," she signed to hearty laughs and clapping.

Founded in 1856, Gallaudet is the only liberal arts university in the world designed exclusively for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

Today, the university provides about 2,000 students with a bilingual education there studying English and American Sign Language.

Event organizer Joshua Pila, 20, student government disability affairs cabinet director at UF, said Rosen's visit Saturday was intended to bring attention to the human side of an often invisible disability.

"Hearing difficulties are a disability that most people don't talk about," Pila said. "You really don't see much about hearing impairments because it's not visible."

More than 2.1 million deaf and hearing-impaired people live in Florida, according to the Florida Association of the Deaf. At UF, of the approximately 840 students registered with disabilities, 26 are hearing impaired, Pila said.

Pila said the presentation and the university's weeklong Awareness Week were important exchanges for bridging the gap between disabled and non-disabled members of North Florida's larger community.

"Dr. Rosen is world renowned," Pila said. "She works for the United Nations. She travels. Here's a women who is bettering the world, and it's a good opportunity for people to say 'hey, look, here's a women with disabilities - on the stage!' "

Greg Bruno can be reached at 374-5026 or brunog@

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