Deaf? You're not alone

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The deaf community in Sequim is growing, according to event organizers at the deaf coffee house.

After Diane Dickson and Gerilee Gustason started the monthly event in October 2008, the group grew slowly.

Now an average of 30 people from Joyce to Bremerton meet at Sequim Community Church for conversation, food and games.

Despite the success, Dickson said they want to continue bringing people out of the woodwork.

"We don't know who they are and that's why we do this," she said.

"A lot of them are hiding."

Gustason, a retired director of San Jose State University's sign language program, in California, said the program should appeal to a lot of retirees in Sequim.

"Statistics tell us that one person out of three over 65 has some hear-ing loss, so the more folks in this area who know something about deafness, the better," Gustason said.

Sense of community

Dickson first visited Port Angeles eight years ago from Tacoma. She met a woman here who was deaf and didn't have many deaf friends, which led Dickson to think about deaf people living in small towns.

Bothered by the idea that deaf people on the peninsula might be lonely or isolated, she wanted to help.

Later her son moved to Diamond Point, which led her and her husband, John, to visit Sequim often.

Dickson prayed for three years before deciding to send out a request via a publication, the "Northwest Deaf News" to start the coffee house.

Gustason responded, and they began the meetings at The Buzz coffee shop.

Not alone

Dickson said many local deaf people were shocked to find that so many deaf people had lived in the area for so long.

"I saw such joy in their eyes," she said.

"Now they are not alone."

Continued growth brought the group from The Buzz, to a portable building at Sequim Community Church, to the Geneva Hall inside the church.

Dickson said now they have more room, tables and a small room for children.

"I'm just thankful and I feel blessed because every one is being blessed - They may not know this," she said.

"I don't want to see deaf people being alone or isolated. I know that feeling, so that is why I want to see (the coffee house) continue."

Call for services

The coffee house fits a social need for many deaf people on the peninsula, but practical services are desperately needed.

Gustason has been teaching sign language at Peninsula College for eight years. During her tenure, she said, many hearing people have learned basic sign language and gained general information about deafness, and a few stuck with it. However, no certified interpreters work on the North Olympic Peninsula, and the nearest one is in Bremerton, Gustason said.

When she and her daughter Zoey Wolfe moved to Sequim, they didn't know any other deaf people in the area.

Wolfe was the only deaf student at Sequim High School during her enrollment and she needed an interpreter. Now she's enrolled at Peninsula College studying graphic arts, and her interpreter commutes from Olympia.

"We need interpreters. Most live in Seattle, and we are too far away," Dickson said.

Gustason said many are deterred from becoming interpreters because the pay is low and the commute is too long.

Many advanced, noncertified sign interpreters come to the coffee houses.

Some said they come to brush up on their skills for their work and volunteer services.

Sequim's Vivian Gaither is working toward becoming certified but she said it will take her a few years.

Those interested in learning basic sign language can take courses with Gustason at Peninsula College.

Reach Matthew Nash at

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