Three hearing-impaired athletes from southern Ontario made a brief stop here Friday before heading up to the Manitoba border near Kenora to kick-off a 10-week run to boost public awareness for the deaf culture.
“The Deaf Trek Across Ontario,” which officially began Saturday, also is being billed as a fundraiser for the Ontario Association of the Deaf.
The trek will hit more than 60 communities between Kenora and its final destination—Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Oct. 3.
Project chairman Eugene Fowler, 52, fellow runner Gordon Dalzell, 34, and rollerblader Elmer Perry, 42, stopped in at the Canadian Hearing Society’s office at La Verendrye hospital for a brief visit with staff.
The trio is travelling in a motor home, with two alternating a run or walk while the third drives.
All three men, who have been deaf since birth, communicate through limited speech, sign language, or written communication.
Dalzell, who acted as spokesperson for the trio, said one of the main goals of the 10-week trek was to open the public’s eyes to the importance of the deaf’s unique language and culture, especially when dealing with children.
“One of the purposes of this trip is to try to get [American Sign Language] equal in importance with the English language,” he noted.
“We value ASL very much. It is very important for a deaf child’s self-esteem, identity, and holistic development,” he stressed.
Nora Paulenko, who heads up the hearing aid program at the local CHS office, said although the deaf population here is very small, awareness of the deaf culture is very important for the hearing public.
“We have three profoundly deaf people in this area who sign,” she noted. “This [trek] certainly is good. The deaf most certainly are a different culture.”
“As deaf people, we have a unique culture, which includes our language and values,” Fowler wrote in a letter.
“We want to promote deaf pride, the important role that the provincial schools for the deaf play in the education of the deaf . . . as well as raise awareness about employment and interpreting needs of the deaf,” he added.
Fowler also is hoping to get some participation from the public in the run as he and his fellow athletes trek through Ontario’s towns and cities, with projections of 50-100 people taking part in larger centres along the route.
Incidentally, statistics indicate the world’s deaf population is over 250 million, with more than 1,500 babies born deaf each day.
And 92 percent of deaf children have hearing parents who do not know sign language.