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Utah County citizens discuss legislation with officials at first Eggs and Issues breakfast

A handful of state legislators were on the hot seat Saturday at the first Eggs and Issues breakfast of the 2020 Utah State Legislative Session — an event sponsored by the Women’s Legislative Council of Utah County and hosted by Utah Valley Hospital.

The event provided public opportunity to discuss legislative issues.

The panel of legislators included Representatives Keven Stratton, R-Orem/Provo; Adam Robertson, R-Provo; Val Peterson, R-Orem/Pleasant Grove/American Fork; Marsha Judkins, R-Provo; Brady Brammer, R-Alpine/Highland/Cedar Hills; and Brad Daw, R-Orem. Senator Curt Bramble, R-District 16, and Congressman John Curtis, R-Uath, were also in the audience as well as other county and city elected officials.

While each representative spoke to things they are working on including everything from unusually large school fees to truth in renting, it was the questions on the repeal of the recent tax referendum that was weighing on the minds of many residents.

“We’re getting tax weary in this county,” Stratton said.

Bramble said that after all the work and one draft of the bill after another, he couldn’t get a copy of S.B. 2001 and had less than a day to look it over when he did get it. He said the process was flawed.

“There was no public hearing,” Bramble said. “It was a flawed process. We’ve got complex problems.”

Robertson said he wasn’t opposed to the tax bill but that he had different concerns. For him it was how the tax reform was structured.

“More needs to be addressed on collecting taxes,” Robertson said.

With the millions of dollars involved, Peterson said the public needed more information.

“We work for all of you,” Peterson said. “I don’t think we did a good job of educating you.”

Judkins was concerned about vulnerable residents who are over-taxed.

“I was against it. It created a financial burden on the most vulnerable citizens,” Judkins said. “There were several reasons (to vote no).”

Daw is hoping the legislators will not put off working on reframing the tax bill.

“We’ve got to go back to the drawing board. We have a duty not to set it aside, he said.

Questions from the audience went from the state tax issues to what the legislators think of the Utah County Commissioners raising property taxes.

Those who spoke defrayed to the Utah County Commission but said repeatedly to be aware of raising taxes incrementally rather than kicking the can down the road and having tax payers get dinged with unexpectedly high property tax increases.

Following the hour and a half discussion, Curtis was invited to stand and say a few words.

“This has been very therapeutic this morning, even at 7 a.m.,” Curtis said. “We saw legislators be accountable today. That gives me hope.”

In referring to the complex issues facing the country, Curtis noted there are still things getting done. He looks forward to better days.

Curtis talked about walking around Washington D.C. and looking up at the capitol.

“I say to myself, holy cow, I get to work there,” Curtis said. “We will be fine. We’ve been in some bad places and we are self-healing. I have hope.”

Curtis added, “I don’t know when I’ll be done with this (serving in congress), but I will need a shower that lasts a year.”

There are two more chances to attend the free Eggs and Issues event with state legislators at 7:30 a.m. on Feb. 22 and March 7 in the Sorenson Tower Education Center at Utah Valley Hospital.

Interpreters, interpreting programs bridging cultural gaps between hearing and the deaf

The following is the second article in the six-part series Deaf in Utah. The next article will run on Feb. 9.

Michael Ballard’s students can have a bit of culture shock when they first enter his deaf studies classes.

“It is two different senses,” Ballard said in American Sign Language, according to a spoken English interpreter. “One is hearing, one is sight, and that is very difficult to internalize if you weren’t raised in a visual-centric learning mode.”

Ballard, who is deaf, is an assistant professor of ASL/deaf studies at Utah Valley University.

About two to three of every 1,000 children born in the United States have detectable hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. About 15% of American adults report trouble hearing, with hearing loss becoming more common later in life.

There are no available statistics on how many deaf individuals use ASL nationwide. Not every deaf individual uses ASL, and each country has its own form of sign language.

Sign language is unique as a language in that it requires a hearing person in order to interpret between a deaf ASL user and a hearing spoken English user, meaning that hearing interpreters are constantly entering the deaf world.

At UVU, ASL is the third-most spoken language on campus, according to the spring 2019 student opinion survey, with 5.1% of those who took the survey stating that they understand the language. The majority of those students have learned it at UVU, with only .1% of the respondents answering that ASL is their native language.

Some of Ballard’s students are future interpreters, while others are taking his classes because the courses are required for their programs or because they’re trying to learn the “why” behind the language.

As his hearing students learn ASL and enter the deaf world, they are breaching the divide between the two populations — and drawing them closer together.

“If earth were a garden, deaf people are a one-of-a-kind flower,” Ballard said. “And if you love gardening, we would love deaf people. We would want to understand deaf people and we would take the language and the language the deaf community is using, but that starts with love.”

Visas to the deaf world

There’s a delicate relationship between interpreters and the deaf clients they provide services for.

“I see tension, but I also see affection and appreciation,” said Cody Simonsen, a founder and the director of operations for 5 Star Interpreting, an ASL interpreting agency based out of Provo.

Simonsen said there’s a spectrum of relationships between ASL interpreters and the deaf, from interpreters who are fully integrated into the deaf world, to those who are only involved with the deaf while they’re on the job interpreting.

Simonsen, who is hearing and is the child of deaf parents, views the deaf world as a foreign country and his interpreter certification as his visa allowing him in as a guest.

Another way he describes it is through a Harry Potter metaphor used in academic literature about the deaf world. Under the metaphor, Deaf people are the wizarding world. Children of deaf adults, like Simonsen, are seen as Squibs, as they have access to the wizarding world, but can’t perform “magic.”

Simonsen and Ben Daniel, who is deaf, formed 5 Star Interpreting in 2016 as a way to close what they saw as a disconnect between the deaf and businesses that staff interpreters.

“We wanted to make a difference instead of complaining about it,” Simonsen said.

With about 200 freelance interpreters under their umbrella, the company keeps track of the interpreters’ experiences and works to match interpreters with the jobs that come in. Simonsen said the deaf have historically been removed from the process of picking an ASL interpreter. 5 Star Interpreters will reach out to the deaf clients to ask if there’s an interpreter they prefer, something Simonsen said gives power back to the deaf and something he sees as a future trend among interpreting agencies.

He points to Salt Lake Community College and UVU as Utah’s powerhouses for interpreting programs. Simonsen, who went to UVU, said he likes what the university is doing with internships and how programs reward students for taking certification exams before graduation. But, he said, students can always be more prepared.

“I see students leave school and they aren’t ready, and the only place they are signing is at school,” he said.

He suggests for students to take interpreting certification exams before they graduate.

Simonsen said there’s enough interpreters in the area to meet the current demands.

“I wouldn’t say that there is a shortage of qualified interpreters to handle urgent, last-minute needs or even advanced booking,” Simonsen said.

A popular program

Ballard points to media such as the TV show “Switched at Birth” for helping to draw hearing students into ASL and deaf studies programs.

“It is getting popular,” Ballard said.

There were 28 students in UVU’s ASL and deaf studies education program in 2019 and 32 in 2018. There were 203 students in the deaf studies program in 2019, up from 180 in 2018.

Ballard teaches his classes in ASL, something he sees as critical.

“For me, it is better to teach in my own language because it is my culture, my values, my beliefs and I want to deliver in a system so they can receive it,” Ballard said.

Teaching ASL or deaf studies without deaf faculty, he said, is missing out on the lifeblood of ASL.

“Learning a language, sign language, without deaf people is kind of like boiling water with no water, or trying to swim without water or having food with no substance,” he said.

Ballard said UVU has become one of the nation’s top universities for deaf studies through its Deaf Studies Today conference, where scholars and students gather to celebrate deaf culture and share solutions on issues in the deaf community.

He’d like to see more people who know ASL in health care, specifically, but he said that doesn’t happen. Some interpreters are good in those situations, he said, and some aren’t.

He wants more people to graduate with ASL experience.

“I am happy with the graduation rates, but we need more, of course we need more,” Ballard said.

Women’s suffrage stories wanted to commemorate 150th anniversary of Utah women voting

All free white male inhabitants who were over the age of 21 and were United States citizens had the right to vote since Utah became a territory in 1850. It wasn’t until 20 years later that the first Utah woman cast her ballot under a women’s suffrage law, which allowed free white women who were U.S. citizens to vote. That was on Feb. 14, 1870.

As the 150th anniversary of this historic event is coming up this month, Pleasant Grove’s Historic Preservation Commission is launching a month-long focus on local women who were part of the women’s suffrage movement.

The project was born when a Pleasant Grove resident contacted commission members in November after she voted. She wondered if they knew of any Pleasant Grove women who were active in the women’s movement. She wanted to place her “I voted” sticker on the headstone of one such woman in the city’s cemetery.

After a brief search, Laurel Cunningham, commission chair, discovered that there had not been much information gathered about this topic locally.

“This identified a large gap in our understanding of Pleasant Grove history and women’s history,” Cunningham said.

“With February 2020 being the 150th anniversary of Utah granting the vote to women and being the first American women to vote under an equal suffrage law, it seems the perfect time to gather these stories and bring awareness to the women who worked so hard for equal voting rights,” Cunningham said. “Historically, women’s stories have been invisible.”

One such story is that of former Pleasant Grove resident Amy Brown Lyman. According to http://utahwomenshistory.org, Lyman served as a Utah state representative from 1923 to 1924, pushing for funding and better medical care for mothers and children. She was a delegate to both the International Peace Meeting of Women in 1925 and the International Council of Women conference in 1927. Lyman spearheaded over 120 welfare institutes that trained more than 4,000 people in family welfare across the United States as she worked with the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Commission members are collecting the stories of women who either participated in the women’s movement in Pleasant Grove or who had notable stories from that era, 1870 to 1920s. They would like to receive names, stories and photos.

People can send in their stories to LaurelCunningham@gmail.com or by contacting commission members through the Pleasant Grove Historic Preservation Commission Facebook page.

Stories and photos will be compiled into a free, downloadable book and will be available from the commission’s Facebook page at the beginning of March.