Mary Lou Novitsky and Gallaudet University theater professor Gil Eastman may be among the most unusual of television hosts.

Both deaf, they speak to viewers of "Deaf Mosaic" in American Sign Language.

Captions on the screen carry the words that will appear on the show's transcript. Local actors Maura McGinn and John MacDonald give voice to Novitsky and Eastman's signing for viewers who can hear.

But then Novitsky and Eastman's show is unusual, too. Produced monthly by Gallaudet, the nation's only university for the deaf, "Deaf Mosaic" is a national magazine-show about the deaf community.

Last Friday, "Deaf Mosaic" won its third national Golden Eagle award from the Washington-based Council on International Non-Theatrical Events (CINE) for an installment that aired last April on how Lebanon's civil war has affected that nation's deaf population. The video was shot by a deaf New Yorker, Alec Naiman.

The program also has won Golden Eagles for a report on the 1987 World Congress of the Deaf in Helsinki and for its show on Gallaudet's "Deaf President Now" movement in 1988. The student demonstrations were followed by the selection of I. King Jordan to be the first deaf person to head the university.

"Deaf Mosaic" also has been awarded nine Emmys by the Washington chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

The show airs locally on WETA on the fourth Thursday of the month, at 1:30 p.m., and on The Discovery Channel cable service, which broadcasts a new episode on the last Sunday of the month and airs repeats of older shows at 9 a.m. other Sundays.

Though its primary audience is among deaf people, "Deaf Mosaic" also can be a window into the deaf world for hearing viewers. Many deaf people think of themselves as belonging to a distinct deaf culture, which is defined by its own language, American Sign Language, practices and beliefs.

An estimated 2 million Americans are profoundly deaf, and about 28 million have some hearing impairment, according to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders in Bethesda. In part because of Gallaudet's presence, the Washington metropolitan area has one of the largest deaf populations in the nation. By some estimates, there are as many as 200,000 people with some hearing impairment in the Washington area.

One of the aims of "Deaf Mosaic" is to show deaf children that "you can grow up and be whatever you want," said Novitsky, who also produces the show.

She should know. Novitsky studied psychology and communications at Gallaudet, was graduated in 1979 with a bachelor's degree, and worked at the National Captioning Institute before going to work for Gallaudet's television department.

But when she first spoke of a television career, her parents, also deaf, opposed her.

"They said, 'Oh no, wait! Remember you're deaf,'" she recounted. "'It's very hard to go into television ... You should be a teacher; you should be a housekeeper. Be something simple. Opportunities for deaf people are limited.'"

"Deaf Mosaic," which premiered 5 1/2 years ago on a handful of PBS stations, tries to reflect the lives of deaf people, said coordinating producer Jim Dellon. It profiles the achievements of deaf entrepreneurs, actors, educators, poets, beauty queens and civic groups, often unknown to both deaf and hearing viewers.

The program covers deaf sports tournaments, which are important social occasions in the deaf community. It fills in little-known aspects of deaf history, as it tries to educate deaf children to their cultural past and create a sense of pride. The December installment, for example, will feature a deaf actor of the silent films, Grandville Redmon, who schooled Charlie Chaplin in the art of mime.

Novitsky said she has files of letters from deaf schoolchildren who have watched "Deaf Mosaic." One boy told her that he was amazed to learn that he could aspire to be a doctor after watching a profile of a deaf doctor. Another, who had been discouraged from skydiving by his parents and teachers, was jubilant when he saw a story about a deaf skydiver.

"Deaf Mosaic" also calls attention to issues that are important to the deaf community, but receive little coverage in other media. For example, the show has covered mental health problems in the deaf community and reported on the experience of deaf prisoners at a California jail.

"If we draw attention to {a problem}, we've always got the potential that someone who sees it will respond to it," said Dellon. "We're not going to lead a movement, but we can draw attention."

Novitsky heard from several hearing psychologists after doing a show on the importance of direct signed communication, instead of interpreted communication, between deaf clients and their psychologists.

"They were experienced psychologists," said Novitsky, "but they forgot about the communication factor... {which is} the number-one issue for deaf clients."

Novitsky plans to work with Gallaudet's National Center on Law and the Deaf to investigate whether deaf defendants and prisoners have access to the same services as hearing people under the criminal justice system.

Finally, though much of prime-time network television and the network news is closed-captioned, Dellon said there is still a gap between what hearing and deaf audiences learn about important issues such as AIDS. "Deaf Mosaic's" March 1988 show on AIDS gave many deaf people their "first real exposure to information about AIDS ... how you get it, how you don't," he said.

(Closed-captioned programming, denoted by the abbreviation CC in TV Week listings, is accessible to viewers via an electronic device attached to the television which produces captions on the screen. Open-captioned shows, like "Deaf Mosaic," carry captions for all viewers.)

Even as it tries to educate hearing people about deafness, and deaf people about their own culture, the show tries to serve as a link to information about the larger world for deaf people.

About half of the show's core 12-member production staff is deaf, and production techniques have been adapted to use signed communication. In the control room, a camera is focused on the director, who signs instructions to the camera operators and hosts. Camera people see the instructions on small monitors mounted on their cameras, while the hosts see them on larger studio monitors.

"There is no job on the show except audio," said Dellon, "that can't or hasn't been done by a deaf person."

"Deaf Mosaic's" producers cooperate with the BBC, which produces a similar program, and Novitsky wants to help the Soviet Union and Asian countries set up programs for their deaf communities.

"We're making {deaf and hearing} people aware, said Novitsky, "so they can get used to the concept that deaf people can do anything, except hear."