Deaf studies program inspires donation

By | January 28, 2013 | News (2)

A $1.5 million gift has been given to Fresno State to establish the Joseph S. Slotnick Distinguished Professorship in the Silent Garden.  This professorship will be part of the Department of Communicative Disorders and Deaf Studies within the College of Health and Human Services.

As the endowment’s name suggests, the money comes to the university from Slotnick, a computer systems analyst and developer, who has been deaf since age 3.

A graduate of Harvard University and key developer of the TTY communication device now used by many deaf people, Slotnick understands both the benefits of higher education, as well as the need for better communication and understanding between hearing people and deaf people.

“More people need education about the deaf community,” Slotnick said.

Indeed, this is the goal for him and his wife, Mary. Before their marriage in 1984, both were involved with educating people about deafness, and working in the deaf community to better understand the needs of deaf people.

While her daughter — who is deaf — was growing up, Mary Slotnick found help from various deaf education professors. These professors were pioneers in educating and supporting the hearing parents of deaf children.  The Slotnicks’ donation is meant to continue the work of such professors.

“When we first talked about an endowment for the Silent Garden, I was so thrilled that would be another professor,” Mary Slotnick said.

Fresno State’s professor emeritus of deaf studies and deaf education, Paul Ogden published a book in 1982 titled, “The Silent Garden.”  Since then, Ogden has founded a program at Fresno State known as The Silent Garden.

“The silent world of those who are deaf or hard of hearing too often makes those individuals invisible to the hearing world . . . The Silent Garden helps to bring awareness and understanding in order to foster communication and opportunity,” Ogden said in a university press release.

Ogden has known Joseph Slotnick for 41 years. At Friday’s conference he referred to Slotnick as a mentor and friend. The Slotnicks’ see Ogden as a torchbearer for the continual strides made in lessening the communication divide between deaf and hearing people.

Indeed, this was a major theme of last Friday’s conference announcing the endowment.

In the Ellipse Gallery of the Henry Madden Library, both deaf and hearing people gathered to show appreciation.  The audio differences between people would have been unknown were it not for a translator standing next to the podium, communicating in American Sign Language.  As provost and vice president for academic affairs, William Covino spoke, the translator silently signed to the audience.  When Ogden spoke, the translator sat in the front row, microphone in hand, speaking the sentences he signed.

The scene was an echo from a line in Ogden’s book. In the preface, he writes, “Hearing people now recognize that deafness is not about hearing, but about communication.”

For deaf-education major Chad Catron, this line was profoundly correct.  Fellow deaf-studies student Anthony Davis, demonstrated the accuracy of the statement, asking a reporter if the problems in conversing with him came from lack of hearing or simply a lack of understanding the mode of communication.

“There is nothing wrong with being deaf. We can communicate. It’s just a matter of finding a way,” Davis said.




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