By Sarah Friedmann: For More Info, Go Here…
On June 16, the city of Rochester, New York celebrated its tenth annual Deaf Festival, gathering at a local park to share and celebrate Deaf culture. Rochester is home to one of the largest deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHoH) populations in the United States, and June’s festivities served to honor those that helped shape this community – and those who are continuing to foster its growth.
The DHoH community has roots in Rochester that date all the way back to 1876, when the Rochester School for the Deaf opened. Initially, the school taught its pupils to communicate primarily via fingerspelling and speech, a method of signing that is sometimes referred to as the “Rochester Method.”
While the Rochester School provided an initial draw for the deaf community, the city began attracting DHoH individuals in much higher numbers almost a century later. In 1965, the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) opened its doors in the city, becoming the first-ever technological college in the world for DHoH students. The school was established by Congress with the goal of promoting “the employment of persons who are deaf by providing technical and professional education.” The NTID is one of the nine colleges of the Rochester Institute of Technology and currently enrolls around one thousand students per year.
Businesses Begin to Respond and Adapt
The NTID has certainly played a significant role in drawing a large DHOH community to Rochester, with students and alumni taking up residency in the city. Notably, as Syracuse.com pointed out, all NTID associate degree students are required to complete off-campus internships, which typically result in them taking a wide variety of jobs throughout the city. This has meant that the business community in Rochester has evolved to better meet the needs of DHoH interns (and alumni employees) – and the DHoH community has played a very active role in shaping the trajectory of business development in the city.
As businesses in Rochester evolved to better accommodate DHoH employees, social services and consumer outlets also began actively taking steps to meet their needs. “Bars and restaurants — and even local television news reports — turned on captioning long before news tickers became common,” Teri Weaver of Syracuse.com wrote. “Hospitals began staffing interpreters. Hair stylists and bartenders who learned ASL attracted loyal clients. And as the major factories downsized, video relay services and other communications businesses opened. All the while, a parish for deaf people grew.”
A Sense of Liberation
The vibrant student and alumni DHoH community in Rochester, coupled with the city’s evolution to become more DHoH-friendly, drew more and more DHoH individuals to live in Rochester over time, as the city became a place where they felt they could live most fully as themselves, the New York Times reported back in 2006. Francis Kimmes, a deaf individual who moved to Rochester in 1962 after spending many years in Niagara Falls — where he was one of only a few DHoH individuals — said he felt liberated when he moved to Rochester. “I felt more free,” Kimmes said through an interpreter. “It hit me. It was powerful.”