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Deaf Seniors in Florida Seek Retirement Home


Deaf Seniors Seek a Retirement Home of Their Own

By Diane C. Lade, SunSentinel 4/26/2013

Like many baby boomers, June McMahon has been thinking about a retirement move and touring South Florida senior communities.

She and her friends check out the activities offered, how the apartments are set up, if there is an on-site nurse. But their research so far has yielded few choices.

That's because this informal search committee is from the Florida Association of the Deaf — severely hearing impaired seniors who are looking for accessible housing that will suit them and others like them.

"We asked several places, when we called to schedule a visit, if they would provide an interpreter for our tour," said McMahon, 60, a retired teacher for the deaf from Boynton Beach and the Florida association's president. "They said no. So we just stopped right there."

Most retirements communities, assisted living centers or nursing homes say they can't meet all the needs of the "signing" deaf, most of whom were born with their disability or lost their hearing before they learned to talk and are dependent on American Sign Language. But two South Florida senior communities are hoping to change that.

Abbey Delray in Delray Beach and The Peninsula in Hollywood, both of which offer independent apartments and more advanced care, eagerly have moved in deaf seniors within the past year and hope more will come.

They have been investing in facility upgrades and staff training, as well as offering sign language classes for staffers and hearing residents who are interested.

The Peninsula, for example, installed signal lights for the doorbell and smoke alarm at the apartment of Anthony Re, 83, who is signing deaf. Management also outfitted the computer room with a video phone so he can make and receive calls.

Re had been living alone in a Pompano Beach mobile home, but he was becoming alarmingly thin and his health was failing last year. So Williams and others from the Center for Hearing and Communication persuaded Re to move to The Peninsula about six months ago.

He said he likes his new home, although he wishes there was a swimming pool. He rides the stationary bike in the exercise room, hangs out in the lobby bistro where the residents can get snacks, and has made friends with a hearing woman who can sign because her granddaughter is deaf.

But except for his new friend, there is no one else for the outgoing Re to converse with, which makes him sad. "I want to talk to the other people," he said, writing on the notepad he always carries in his pocket along with a pen, in case someone wants to chat.

'No way to communicate'

Deaf-friendly senior housing is a growing concern in Florida and around the country. The "signing" deaf population, top-heavy with boomers like the nation overall, is aging and losing their network of spouses, relatives and deaf friends.

"Older deaf people tend to build their own little communities, where their neighbors, the letter carrier and bus driver know them. Imagine leaving that [for a retirement facility] and having no way to communicate," said Shana Williams, social services director for the Center for Hearing and Communication, a nonprofit serving Broward and Palm Beach counties. "You go to play bingo, you can't hear them call the numbers. If they show a movie, you can't hear it."

There are very few senior facilities in the country that "provide a critical mass of sign language access to deaf and hard of hearing individuals," said Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf. "Very few developers have considered building for this population."

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