Theressa DuBois is the President & CEO of The Deaf Welcome Foundation, a new national charity serving the interests of the Deaf population in Garden City, NY. Theressa founded the charity in August, 2004 to make Deaf welcome in the communities in which they live, work and do business by amiable consulting and astute networking.
Theressa learned American Sign Language (ASL), some 20 years ago to help a Deaf neighbor understand their church service. ASL took on new meaning when Theressa realized how many Deaf suffered because they lacked "equal access" to information, education and entertainment. This dramatically changed her life, as she began to advocate the simple fact: equal access is a right, not a privilege.
Theressa has hosted financial education seminars, technical workshops, art classes, fitness marathons, and other events around town in sign language. Theressa premiered the charity's mini-movie, "DATE RAPE: Don't Be A Victim," in December 2005, at "Deaf Beauty Day," hosted at V Spa & Salon in Garden City, NY, before a standing room only crowd. Guests have come to expect to be trained and entertained at Deaf Welcome events. Theressa is affectionately called the "Signing Oprah."
We Are Here!
First of all she is charisma personified. Second of all she is one of the most interesting people to talk to but above and beyond all of that, she is completely committed and consumed with fulfilling what she believes she has been called to do:
Take a stand for having life work for everyone!
We met at the Pierre Hotel recently, for a chat and I found her fascinating and find her work important.
Here is what she said to me:
Deaf Welcome Foundation is a tax exempt public charity. We presented our business plan to the Federal Government, hoping to be approved as a non-profit organization, and to our surprise they approved us in record time and made us a public charity as well.
Right now we need to have major funding to create and produce sign language media for a deaf population that can't read. There are lots of deaf people who can not read. And so the best way to communicate with them is sign language and now with modern technology we can press it on a DVD and they can see it! So it is actually a living, watching, viewing breathing language and we need that for legal information, medical information and of course,
because we are not just about information.
We want people to come to us regularly for all that is media.
I wondered how she came up with the name...
Actually I wanted to name it The Deaf Friendly Foundation because "Deaf Friendly" is a trade name. When something is "Deaf Friendly" it means that you have the accommodations necessary. But someone grabbed "Deaf Friendly" in the UK. So I said
"What am I gonna do? What am I gonna do?"
THE DEAF WELCOME FOUNDATION is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization. Thank you in advance for your kind donation. For your convenience, you can donate online by using your major credit card. Donations are tax deductible. Please contact us directly when donating gifts, equipment, or property. You can also donate your car, truck or SUV.
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Click here to learn more about
The Deaf Welcome Foundation.
Then the idea of signing "Welcome" came to me.
When someone is welcome it means that they are invited, they will be respected and they will be treated properly. That is what we want the hearing world to be able to do. If that means sign language accommodations, interpreters, technology or if it just means popping in a DVD that we have produced, it's going to make a deaf person feel welcome.
I was curious about all of the ways that Deaf Welcome Foundation actively advocates for Deaf people...
Information is one way. We want the hearing world to be able to communicate with the deaf. So we have been getting as many corporate sponsors as we can to donate webcams and with the webcams, you just plug it into a computer and, if you have high speed Internet access, you can access an interpreter within 10 seconds -
Federally funded - doesn't cost them a dime!
So they never have a lag for understanding the deaf consumer who doesn't speak or doesn't write English.
I say "write English" because for some it's a matter of literacy. For others, they are foreign born. For instance, New York has a huge Russian Deaf population. These people are amazing. They speak, read and sign in Russian. They learn American Sign Language but they don't know English so you can't write to them. The same thing with the Polish Deaf and Chinese Deaf, the Middle Eastern deaf. I've met deaf from Bangladesh. They can't read English but they can sign in English.
Many deaf Americans that go to deaf schools, many Black Americans do not read and write English fluently and because of the Americans With Disabilities Act, technically, they don't have to because, if they go to court, public assembly, any of these places, a parent teachers meeting, the law says that it is their right to have an interpreter so they don't need to read and write English. But for all of these places that give them hand outs or brochures -
they can't read English!
So we need sign language media! So, just like you see "Se habla Espanol", "We speak Spanish", we need to have DVD's for the deaf. Spanish is not protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act but it is a market that America recognizes as a viable market. Well, deaf people have jobs too! And their language is protected by the law.
What is the driving force behind her passion for her cause?
Signing the word: Assisting
Imagine if you had the cure for cancer. You invented it and you see that it works. Would you want to keep it a secret or would you want to go to every oncologist in the country and tell them.
I see the answer!
The answer is communication and providing accommodations into the mainstream. Whether it's the webcam or letting people know how to talk to deaf people - that's the answer to the deaf frustration!
I know what the answer is and if I just stay in the world of interpreters then all these hearing people won't know that is the answer. If I just stay in the world of deaf people I will just be listening to them cry forever.
I have got the answer; I just have to change the audience.
I have done networking with CEO's so I am not intimidated with people that have the power. I need to talk to the CEO's who are not going anywhere soon so that they can make it company policy to have sign language media playing in their vestibules or a sign language resource library in their Human Resources department and now -
everybody has to get with the program and provide equal access to the deaf.
It is the law!
But the law says that you have to provide reasonable accommodation. Because we are just coming on the scene, they don't realize that now "reasonable accommodations," well, the bar has been raised:
It's no longer just "72 hours later provide an interpreter for 45 minutes."
Reasonable now means:
GET A WEBCAM, LINK AND IN 10 SECONDS HAVE THIS DEAF PERSONS ISSUES RESOLVED!!!
So, I've got the answers. I have got "the cure to cancer"! And there are a lot of people that know, I am not the only one that knows but they are so busy advocating as social workers, as interpreters, that they are not stepping out onto the playing field to tell the real world what is going on.
I asked Theressa to fantasize for a moment about what it is that she wants to have happen for Deaf Welcome Foundation.
I want a deaf family to be able to walk into a restaurant with their three hearing children ages 5, 6 and 10 and be able to enjoy dinner without turning the kids into interpreters. They are kids. They just want to eat. They don't want to interpret the menu. I want them to be able to walk in and the Maitre D just clicks on the computer and answers the parent's questions and takes their order and they can sit down with their kids and enjoy a meal.
I want them to be able to go into the Subway station and be able to point and click and find out what that announcement was that was just made, to find out that the trains are being rerouted. I want them to be able to call their office and say "I am going to be late" and the interpreter is right there. I want them not to have to find a stranger to ask them to help them call their boss. Can you imagine? I want them to have equal access to everyone; to be able to go to the gym and just point and click and ask the personal trainer "How do I use this machine?" and get an answer in sign language.
That is the world that I see! With all of this technology. Just click on the mouse and link to whatever service it is that you want and talk and -
have people talk back.
Here is what she needs so that the fantasy will become a reality!
The public needs to know that the technology exists and that it doesn't interfere with their normal operations. They need to know that it is federally funded. They need to contact us to become a part of our business directory and give us funding so that we can make their commercials. We can make their infomercials and their training brochures. Give us the opportunity until other film makers get a clue that --
There are over 25 million deaf in America that they could be helping.
Give it to us we'll get it started. I cranked out a really cool video with no budget, but the word needs to get out.
Here is what she wants you to know...
Deaf people are like everybody else. They just want to be respected and contribute to society. Deaf people own homes, drive cars, they dance! But unfortunately they are locked out of a lot of things. If a husband can hear and his wife can not hear, he can't just bring her to a jazz concert. It is not equipped but -
It can be!
We are here and we can help.
THE DEAF WELCOME FOUNDATION
We are a 501(c)(3) tax exempt public charity providing information, education, and entertainment in sign language. We have successfully launched the Deaf Welcome City Project bringing video relay service (VRS) to government agencies, law enforcement, hospitals, retail shops and more. We’ve only just begun ...
Everyone deserves to be understood! When your business is equipped with video relay service (VRS), certified multilingual sign language interpreters are at your fingertips 24/7, everyday of the year. Yes, “We’re Here!” making Deaf welcome at businesses, libraries, schools and shops nationwide.
Learn more about The Deaf Welcome Foundation.