August 5, 2003 - Walking into the Boston headquarters of DEAF Inc. is like stepping into another world.
It's a hypnotic, quiet world for those used to a hearing reality, a place where clients and staff speak fluidly with their hands. It's an unusual oasis in the Boston area: a place linguistically and culturally accessible to the Deaf community.
"As soon as you come in, the environment is American Sign Language," said Sharon Applegate, the non-profit's new executive director.
It's a comfort level that's key to the 25-year-old DEAF Inc.'s mission, to help its clientele of deaf, deaf-blind and hard of hearing people. Its services run the gamut from HIV/AIDS education to independent living.
For Applegate, previously assistant executive director at the New York City Society for the Deaf, it's also a challenge. While she hopes to eventually expand services, the state's financial crisis has left the non-profit trying to hold on to what it already has.
"Today, there are financial difficulties everywhere and everyone is feeling the crunch," Applegate said through a sign language interpreter. "The foundations are not giving as much money as they did previously. Everyone is competing for the small number of funds they can give."
What Applegate knew going into the job is that the area has a strong Deaf community. She already had a strong interest in moving to Framingham after researching schools for her daughter Louise, 7.
"I really wanted her to go to an all-inclusive deaf school," Applegate said. "The Learning Center for Deaf Children (in Framingham) has a reputation as one of the best schools in the country."
Her daughter recently started soccer camp at the school and already feels at home, she added.
"She has new deaf friends already and some of them have been to our home already," said Applegate. Her partner, Alec, an ASL and Deaf culture professor, plans to move up from Manhattan to join the pair in Framingham. "There are a lot of deaf families in Framingham and I've met a lot of people. They are warm and friendly."
Bringing up her daughter in Deaf culture is important to Applegate. She was matched with Louise when the child was only 4 and living in China, one of only two deaf children in the entire orphanage.
"When I first met her, she had no language. She just pointed," Applegate said. Once exposed to ASL, however, she quickly picked up the language and now is thriving.
Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, Applegate lost her hearing to an illness when she was only 18 months old. She attended Kennedy School for the Deaf, a school which focused on oral and lipreading skills rather than sign language. In high school, she was mainstreamed into the public schools, where she was the only deaf individual.
"It was very different at that time," she recalled. "There were no interpreters or support services."
During high school, however, she met a few other deaf peers who taught her ASL.
"Parents want what's best for the children," Applegate said, noting that 90 percent of deaf individuals came from hearing families. "Often, they feel it's better for their children to function in a world that can hear. That's what they know. Rather than accept the children for who they are. I grew up oral and I'm thankful for my speech and lip reading skills but if I grew up with ASL, I think I would be more in touch with what's going on in the world.
"When I started learning sign language, I felt more confident. I felt more 'normal' rather than my hearing being broken," she added. "Via ASL, a world of information flowed right into me, and it definitely changed my life," she said. "I've become more knowledgeable about the world around me."
That knowledge brought her to Rochester Institute of Technology's National Technical Institute for the Deaf, where she fell in love with New York City after an internship. She moved on to Columbia University, where with full interpreter service support, she attained a bachelor's degree in sociology and master's degrees in public health and social work.
Her background as a social worker for deaf psychiatric patients as well as the lessons she's learned from the New York Society for the Deaf, has made her confident that she can help expand the reach of DEAF Inc. One aspect that impressed her early on: the entire board of directors speaks ASL, unlike the directors in New York.
Programs are tailored to consumer needs. Basic education includes sign language classes, driver's education, written English, and skills assessment. Interpreters and family members are also able to receive training.
"Many of the deaf consumers who come to this agency are immigrants. They come to improve their understanding of English.
A large deaf-blind program provides independence training, allowing these clients to live with minimal assistance. Substance abuse and HIV/AIDS services are also in the mix.
Contact Jennifer Lord at email@example.com.
Source: MetroWest Daily News
July 23, 2003 - Sharon L. Applegate has been named executive director of DEAF, Inc., the Commonwealth's first and only multi-service community-based agency run by and for Deaf or Hard of Hearing people. Ms. Applegate joins DEAF, Inc. following a nationwide search to replace Heidi Reed, who led the Organization as its executive director for fourteen years, but who left last fall to accept an appointment to serve as Commissioner of the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
Ms. Applegate, who is Deaf and fluent in American Sign Language, brings to DEAF, Inc. 20 years of experience working with Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Deafblind people. Most recently, and for the past six years, she served as Assistant Executive Director for the New York Society for the Deaf, and held broad leadership, executive, administrative, and financial management responsibilities for that Agency - a nonprofit organization with 80 staff, 3,000 consumers, and an annual budget of $10 million.
"We are delighted that we were able to attract someone of Sharon's considerable capabilities to take the reins at DEAF, Inc.," said DEAF, Inc Board President Heather Harker. "That Sharon was willing to relocate to Massachusetts to accept this position speaks well for DEAF, Inc.'s track record of service and the depth of our programs, a credit to Heidi Reed and the staff she built and directed over 14 years. We are grateful to her, and to Chris Casey, woh led DEAF Inc. as acting executive director during our search for a new director, for their unwavering commitment to the Deaf community through service to DEAF, Inc."
"The search to replace Heidi Reed involved both DEAF, Inc. board members and members of the community," added Harker. "Ultimately, we were unanimous that Sharon was the candidate best equipped not just to continue DEAF, Inc.'s 25-year impressive legacy of quality programming and advocacy for the range of populations we serve- but to chart new directions, meet expanding demands even in the wake of current budget pressures, and take the Organization to new heights. We are delighted to have Sharon aboard and enthusiastic about the prospect of introducing her to our community when we celebrate our 25th anniversary as an organization in September.
Ms. Applegate holds two masters degrees from Columbia University (Social work and public health) and a B.A. in sociology from Columbia University. She is a resident of Framingham, where her daughter Louise (7), also Deaf, is a student at The Learning Center.
Since its founding 25 years ago, DEAF, Inc. (Developmental Evaluation and Adjustment Facilities, Inc.) has served more than 20,000 members of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing population of Massachusetts and the Northeast through its headquarters in Allston, and its regional offices in Salem, Middleboro, and New Bedford. The Organization provides comprehensive services to Deaf, Hard of hearing, Deafblind and Late Deafened people, as well as to their family, friends and employers, to encourage and enable consumers to participate effectively and productively in their communities. DEAF, Inc. offers educational programs, information and referrals, advocacy, skills assessment and training tailored to consumer needs in a supportive community environment - one that is linguistically and culturally accessible to Deaf and Hard of Hearing people from diverse backgrounds.