Agency lends support to deaf community

YOUNGSTOWN — Being surrounded by hearing individuals doesn’t stop Dorothy Voyda from finding ways to communicate with them.

Voyda, 38, was born hearing but due to an unknown cause, she lost the sense in both ears when she was about 18 months old.

In the days before the proliferation of cellphones, Voyda often “communicated with people by writing notes back and forth and using gestures.” She said people thought she was ignoring them if they spoke to her from behind. Sometimes, “hearing people would get upset and give me dirty looks or push grocery buggies into me to get my attention.”

Being with a hearing person helped because that friend could let Voyda know if someone was trying to talk to her.

Fast forward a handful of years.

Voyda, of Brookfield, is the case coordinator / employment specialist at Easterseals of Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana Counties.

She identifies as Deaf because of her involvement in the deaf culture and community, and because ASL is her primary language.

There are different ways deaf individuals identify:

•   A capital “D” in Deaf represents someone who is culturally involved in the Deaf community and primarily uses American Sign Language as their first language.

•   A lowercase “d” in deaf means a hearing loss or not involved in the Deaf community. An example would be an older person who loses hearing later in life.

•   For someone who has little to severe hearing loss and isn’t comfortable identifying as deaf, they can identify as hard of hearing.

Initially, Voyda was a client of Easterseals but has worked there for four years. After being a stay-at-home mom for several years, Voyda said, “it was time to give back to the deaf community” and so she began her employment as an instructor of American Sign Language (ASL).

In her current role, she not only teaches ASL classes to individuals and groups, but she also leads the Case Management and Vocational Support program, the Deaf Mentor Program and various youth programs.

Voyda interviews and explains the programs available at Easterseals for the deaf community. When meeting with a new client, she assesses their needs and finds services to best suit those needs.

As part of her case management role, she works to refer deaf individuals to support services. The vocational training services at Easterseals offer support, counseling and advocacy for all participants.

Voyda leads a youth summer camp that meets at Easterseals but includes field trips to fun and educational sites. Even the fun excursions are educational as the activities involve a person functioning in a different environment and gaining experience in a hearing environment. Dining out at restaurants as a group helps with building self-confidence as well as functioning with the hearing community.

Community service is a component of the camp as well as leadership training. As the youth coordinator for the group, she said they recently attended a science center lecture. There was a speaker there but also an interpreter. This was an opportunity for some deaf people to be out with the hearing population and see that they can participate and benefit from the classes or centers.

Voyda credits the help from the Community Center for the Deaf with advocating for her right to provide interpreter service “under the Americans with Disability Act law.”

To educate the camp participants in the importance of community service, the group helped at Shaker Woods, learning to work with others while helping with chores at the fair such as trash removal and keeping the sites neat.

As part of The Deaf Kids Enrichment Club, Voyda encourages youths to develop life skills, learn social responsibility and “form a supportive network of friends like them.” Voyda noted these skills are important in developing self-esteem and self-confidence.

The Deaf Mentor and Snapshot Program supports parents of children aged up to 3 years. Voyda said services are tailored for the child’s environment. She helps parents with signing and identifying the needs to work with their children for language development. “Early intervention is very important,” Voyda said.

Another segment of the mentor program is called Snapshot. In that role, Voyda relates her own encounters with hearing people with clients. She said this helps parents be aware of what to expect as the child grows. She said she uses the story of these occasions as examples of people’s impressions of her to explain to clients the importance of learning to communicate.

Voyda said she “loves working here because there is 100% communication access.” It helps her and her clients work in a hearing environment. She stressed, “if you know of any deaf people, send them to us. There is help available. I never want anyone to feel like there is no help for them.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today