The world of investment can be frantic: The fast and accurate exchange of information is vital for making minute-by-minute decisions. However, it is a world that virtually is inaccessible to the deaf.
That may all be changing thanks to some new technology and a unique education program sponsored by Gallaudet College for the Deaf and the Washington investment house of Ferris & Co. Inc.
For about a year and a half, Lyman Harbottle, a registered representative of Ferris, has been conducting a series of special investment seminars for the deaf. The classes and offered once a week for a month in the fall and spring at Ferris' downtown offices at 1720 I St. NW.
With Gallaudet employe Sandy Benintende by his side, providing instantaneous sign interpretation, Harbottle's students are introduced to the basics of investment strategy -- what types of investment avenues are available, how to form a corporation, what common stock is and how to choose the right stock.
"A whole new field for the deaf is opening up," said Harbottle. "They're really excited."
The relationship between Gallaudet and Ferris goes back many years. George Ferrs Sr., chairman of the board of Ferris, has served on the board of trustees of the college for several years.
A couple of years ago, Don Pettingille, director of demonstration programs for Gallaudet's college of continuing education, approached Harbottle with the idea for the seminars. Harbottle would teach and Gallaudet would provide translators. "My philosophy is that anything that is valuable to hearing people should be valuable to deaf people," Pettingille said.
Speaking with aid of an interpretor during a telephone interview, Pettingille described his program's function as "demonstrating to the rest of the country that 90 percent of what you need to establish continuing education is already in the community."
Harbottle is listed in the deaf phone book and has several deaf clients. In fact, Ferris & Co. is one of only two brokerages in the country that provides investment services for the deaf. Ferris has installed a TTY (teletype) machine in its office to "talk" directly with clients. "They (the deaf) can't sit down and talk like you and I," said Harbottle, "On personnal problems they don't like having a third party (translator) present."
In a few weeks, Ferris will be installing a brand new TTY called Teletrym. The machine, which looks like an adding machine, prints out the message on paper, providing a permanent record for both the broker and the investor. The device also is equipped with its own answering service so that one party can leave a message if the other party is away from the machine. The Teletrym, which sells for about $900, is quiet and small, making it very attractive for office use.
As Harbottle sees it, the machine is an invaluable too. Without it, he says. "If there was bad news on a stock there'd be no way to get in touch."
The seminars have met with enthusiasm from its participants. Much of the information is repetitive since the deaf can only absorb about 25 percent of wha Harbottle is saying. "They have a great time... Sometimes it's hard getting them out of here," he said of the class on Wednesday night.
An alumnus, James Humphrey, who majored in business administration, is taking a more practical approach: "I felt like later I'll most likely make some investments in the stock market."
Although the classes are small (12 or 15 per class) the initial response has been encouraging -- so much so that Harbottle is thinking of expanding the program. One way would be to conduct courses for the deaf right along with the hearing.
The last two seminars will be held on March 21 and 28 from 6:30 to 7:45 p.m.