Updated: Is Deafopia Ignorant of DeafBlind Community Needs?

By Mary Pat Luetke-Stahlman

Updated: Wednesday May 8, 2019 10:30 AM.

Updated: Tuesday May 7, The Deaf Report was shared (from an anonymous individual) a letter written by Seth Gerlis to the greater Salem community requesting for volunteers for their Deafopia event on May 11, 2019. The Letter was sent out May 7, 2019. - Attached Here

Oppression as a result of ignorance is a very real problem, it causes distrust within the community. Many say that there is distrust towards hearing people due to the animosity and history behind organizations such as AG Bell. There are clear examples of the community being ignorant of people and their needs within the community as well, one comes in the form of a recent situation with the expo Deafopia.

Shannon was looking forward to attending Deafopia Expo, “We went last year; we got a ride with a friend of ours but this year it's here in Salem Oregon and I wanted to go again because its local and I wanted to mingle with the Deaf community and not have to depend on everybody [for a ride] because my wife and I, we can get around pretty good here in Salem so I saw this as a good opportunity to go and would have liked equal access.”(Shannon)

When signing up for a Deafopia event, people are required to fill out all of their contact information, and there is a space below for additional comments. The comments section is the only section in the form which is not required at this time. There is also a disclaimer present which states that they would also share your contact information with the Gallaudet University Office of Graduate Admissions. Shannon Mason filled out the form and included a simple statement, “I am DeafBlind and need close vision interpreting please.”

This form was filled out and submitted well before the event was supposed to happen (May 11tth) on March 30, 2019. Shannon followed up on May 4 a week before the event with the following statement, “I registered; heard nothing back, I've asked for close vision interpreting, and this was asked for over a month ago“

Seth Gerlis, the host of Deafopia and main contact person on their webpage replied the next day. “We do not have any interpreting service at this time. Our sincerest apologies.” (Seth Gerlis - Deafopia)

This specific issue has since been resolved according to an email sent by Seth to The Deaf Report; he further asserted that the person who filed the complaint would drop their report as well. Shannon was contacted shortly after and shared this statement about their compromise, “he [Gerlis]  said that he would ask his girlfriend [to interpret] and I said I accepted and he said I could bring my own interpreter and I said I accepted so those are my version of the compromise.” (Shannon)

Philip Wolfe, a well-known Portland area activist, and advocate reached out to Seth Gerlis with an offer to share a list of certified SSP providers and was met with the same response from the Deaftopia team stating “we solved the problem and that person withdraw his complaint”. The Association for the Deaf in Oregon is also aware of the situation and has stated that they are pleased that the situation has been resolved between Deafopia and Shannon Mason. They also commented on the situation and how it has developed, “OAD is always willing to support and advocate for Oregon’s Deaf community. By using the term ‘Deaf’, we refer to the entire umbrella of people with hearing loss, and any additional disabilities. This, of course, includes the DeafBlind as well.”

Julie Baker, another advocate in the community commented as well, “This situation is an example of how advocacy is such an important part of our community; we are here to support the community as a whole. The community’s willingness to ignore the fact that we have people that want and need additional accommodations is what has been damaging. As victims of oppression ourselves, we need to be stronger allies to the DeafBlind community when they ask for something. An audist within its own community is worst than an ignorant one.”

It has been mentioned similarly by other DeafBlind people that at other Deafopia events as well, there have been SSP and other accommodations available without any problems. This leaves people with the question, what what has happened to cause this to be an issue at this particular location? As for JennyLynn Mason, Shannon’s wife, had this to say to the expo itself as a result of their interactions with Seth Gerlis: “Deafopia, do not visit Oregon again until you are ready to provide accommodation to the DeafBlind community. No excuses, we will not be shunned by you or people like you.”

The Deaf Report has contacted Deafopia for further comments