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Fingers will talk the talk at sign language festival

Published September 18, 2004

SAFETY HARBOR - Deaf and hearing people will let their fingers do the talking today at an American Sign Language festival at the Safety Harbor Public Library.

"It is the first ASL festival in the county as far as I know," said Rosa Rodriguez, deaf literacy coordinator for the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative, a countywide coalition of 19 libraries.

The festival, which kicks off National Deaf Awareness Week Sept. 18-24, will celebrate deaf culture, raise awareness, and promote the use of sign language, she said. It is sponsored by the Deaf Literacy Center of the library cooperative.

"Everyone can learn the (finger-spelling) alphabet and people will know how to sign their names before they leave," Rodriguez said.

Signing clowns and mimes will roam the grounds. Deaf storytellers will spin tales with the aid of interpreters. Songs will be sung and signed. Deaf crafters will sell their wares.

Children can have their faces painted and create sign language-related crafts.

Organizations and agencies who serve the deaf population will distribute information.

In addition, demonstrations of a six-week class for hearing babies called Sign with Your Baby will be held. Rodriguez said research suggests that tots who learn sign language have higher IQs and better vocabularies later in life.

There are no current figures on how many hearing-impaired people are in the county, she said. A study was done in 1990 by the Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and Gallaudet University that showed 120,000 individuals living in the county who were either hard-of-hearing, profoundly deaf or late-deafened adults.

"That number is significantly greater by now," she said.

Safety Harbor Public Library has offered much support to the deaf population. It has one of the largest collections in the nation of materials for the hearing-impaired, with more than 1,800 items including books, DVDs and videos.

A deaf literacy outreach program, paid for by a state grant, was established at the library six years ago when staff members noticed an influx of deaf patrons. The program was eventually taken over by the library cooperative.

Sign language classes are held each Monday night at the library and there are tutoring programs for the deaf that teach reading, writing and computer skills.

The Palm Harbor Public Library, the Pinellas Park Public Library, and south branch of St. Petersburg library system also have added sign language programs.


The American Sign Language Festival will be held today at the Safety Harbor Public Library, 101 Second St. N., from 1 to 6 p.m. It is free and will be on the grounds of the library, so lawn chairs are suggested. For more information call the Safety Harbor Public Library at 727 724-1525, ext. 232 or Rosa Rodriguez at (727) 724-1529 TTY or (727) 724-1526 Sorenson VP-100 or e-mail

[Last modified September 18, 2004, 01:26:38]

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