The National Park Service is training its workers in finger spelling and sign language to enable them to communicate with deaf employees and visitors at Park Service centers.
Instructors for the program are rangers Richard Blumenfeld, 26, and Alan McKanzie, 22, who communicate manually and orally by using sign language and lip reading.
Blumenfeld, hired by the service 11 months ago, is an interpreter at the Lightship Chesapeake site. He is totally deaf. McKanzie, who has some degree of hearing with the use of a hearing aid, has been a park service interpreter at the Kennedy Center since May.
Patricia Kessler, 38, an employee development assistant with the service, said three deaf employees were hired by the Mall operations in 1977. She said that the sign language program, which began June 1, was organized by Blumenfeld for two purposes: To help park service employees understand and work with the handicapped, and to help supervisors communicate with deaf employees.
"When Richard came to work and talked and communicated with people, people shyed away from him," she said. "They just couldn't communicate with a deaf person. But he has such a lively, outgoing manner he made people communicate with him. Then Alan came on board and they developed this program."
Intially, 20 NPS employees signed up for the sign language training, said Kessler. Eighteen are still in the program: 15 are park personnel and three are administrative personnel. Classes are held three hours a day, twice a week in finger spelling and sentence construction.
Students are given exercises in sign language out of instruction manuals. Later they act out stories or jokes. These scenes are videotaped, played back and then reviewed by the class.
"The first thing we learned were all the dirty words," joked Pam West, 26, a museum technician from the regional office.
"I've been with the service 2 1/2 years and I have to visit different sites in this region. Some of the interpreters are deaf. Also a conservationist in the museum laboratory in Harper's Ferry is deaf. It helps to be able to talk to him," said West. "Three weeks after we began training, I talked to him in sign language - I said 'Hello, how are you?' It went really well.
"Now I'm teaching my 6-year-old son, Sholom. He wants to learn," she said.
Essie Lawrence, a ranger at Arlington House in George Washington Memorial Park, has been greeting visitors there two years. Over the Fourth of July weekend she was able to greet deaf visitors in sign language.
"I said good morning and told them I was taking a sign language course. They smiled," said Lawrence. "I also trained two deaf students from Gallaudet to give talks on the history of the park at Arlington House. This was part of my training."
Moving his fingers carefully, Michael Thomas, 27, said, "It's like learning another language. There are many signs close to other signs, so you have to be very careful."
"We have a brother from the Catholic church who comes out often," said Thomas, who works at Fort Washington, Md. "He also a Boy Scout leader for a deaf troop. Now I'll be working with him with this troop."
Instructor Alan McKanzie moved his hand rapidly as he spoke of his goals for the program.
"Something that I would personally like to establish is a program between NPS and Gallaudet students, where students would come to see the sights in the parks, the White House, and have deaf people to work with us and explain the tours to other deaf people."
"We've had problems in the past with people who fear hiring deaf people," he said. "We want to show people that deaf people are nothing to be afraid of.
McKanzie, formerly of Sacramento, Calif., said he came to Washington to attend Gallaudet College. He is an economics major and will graduate in December. The oldest of three sons, McKanzie said he was adopted at infancy. Once his hearing problem was discovered he was placed in special schools to receive speech and lip reading training.
"In the eighth grade I was put in public school," he recalled. "I also went to college in Sacramento for one year." After graduation he said he'll go where the job opportunities are.
Richard Blumenfeld's parents didn't discover that he was deaf until he was 3-years-old. By then he said he had learned to lip read by watching them.
"They wouldn't accept my handicap so they put me in private and public schools," said the former St. Paul, Minn., resident. He now lives in Arlington.
"I've always been with hearing people," he said. "I didn't meet a deaf person until I was 18-year-sold."
Blumenfeld, one of three children, said he has a younger brother, also deaf, and a sister. He came to Washington 1 1/2 years ago to visit friends and unexpectedly found a job.