Progress, roadblocks as advocates for deaf seek parity



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Earlier this week we posted a profile of Myles de Bastion, a deaf musician who runs a startup and nonprofit aimed at bridging the hearing and nonhearing worlds.  Here we look at an OHSU hard of hearing research hub,  and hear from an activist about ongoing obstacles facing people who are heard of hearing.

OHSU hub

OHSU houses the Oregon Hearing Research Center, a hub that focuses on the fundamental mechanisms of hearing and therapies for hearing loss.

Many of the researchers — 11 faculty members, as well as 60 staffers, post-docs and graduate students — are  themselves deaf or hard of hearing. The center was awarded $11 million in National Institutes of Health grants in 2017, the second-highest amount of hearing-related research money to go to a U.S. institution.

“Our collective passion is to understand the genetic, molecular and physiological basis of hearing with the expectation that this knowledge will impact therapeutic strategies to improve the lives of individuals with hearing loss,” John Brigande, a researcher at the center, said in an email.

Researchers pushed for hearing-assistive technology in many on-campus buildings, with the understanding that “effective communication drives collaboration, learning and growth,” Brigande said.

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Deaf activists say Oregon has a long way to go before the community is treated fairly in the workplace.

“Many [employers] assume that deaf employees cannot do the job because of communication barriers,” said Philip Wolfe, a longtime activist, former Portland mayoral candidate and a member of the Portland Commission on Disability, in an email. Businesses also fear deaf employees will scare away customers. “Both are myths,” Wolfe said. 

A member of the Portland Art Museum’s accessibility task force, Wolfe is pushing the museum to hold a Deaf History Month featuring history and works by deaf artists. Among other objectives he would also like to see captioning during livestreamed political events.

“There is so much more to do,” Wolfe said.