Graphics specialist Lucius H. Redmond followed up on the advice of his boss and decided to take some art courses to heighten his chances for promotion. Redmond found a class in air brushing and his employer of the past 13 years, the Army, said it would pay for the instruction.
But Redmond, who is deaf, needed an interpreter to take the course and finding one proved difficult. Reading lips is not easy for him, a friend said. Lighting has to be good and the lip movement clear.
The air-brushing course met in a softly lit stockroom of an art supply store on Rockville Pike, and the instructor had a mustache that obscured his upper lip. Lip-reading under the circumstances was difficult, Redmond said, and he was unable to understand much of what was said during the first two classes.
But Redmond, signing to an interpreter, said he was determined to take the course. "To compete as a handicapped person you have to work twice as hard," he said.
In 1966, he noted, he went to drafting school and communicated with the instructor by handwritten notes. "We didn't know about interpreters back then," Redmond noted.
Employers now often try to be more sensitive to the needs of the handicapped. At the time Redmond was having trouble with his course, his division of the Army, Harry Diamond Laboratories, was planning a handicapped awareness week. Redmond was assigned to make some of the displays.
Diamond Labs called Learning Works, the organization sponsoring the class, to seek a free interpreter for Redmond. Under federal law, deaf government employes are entitled to interpreters for job training programs. But as far as Diamond Labs was concerned, "the issue wasn't finding an interpreter, the issue was finding a free interpreter," said Arthur House, codirector of Learning Works. One couldn't be found.
But Redmond, a Laurel resident, said he never considered backing out. Becoming proficient in air brushing, a painstaking technique of perfecting photographs by camouflaging imperfections, was one of Redmond's links to possible career advancement.
Finally, through the efforts of coworker Debbie Baggett, an interpreter was found: Shirley Johnson from DeafPride Inc., an advocacy organization for the hearing impaired. She accompanied Redmond to his final two classes and used sign language to tell him what the instructor was saying. Diamond Labs will pay DeafPride a fee of about $17 an hour for the final two classes.
Johnson said the problem deaf persons face in overcoming bureaucracy and obtaining help in their quest for advancement is widespread. "Let me tell you, there's a whole lot of folks falling through the cracks," she noted. "Lucius (Redmond) has to be an advocate on his own behalf and make his needs known. His co-workers have to become advocates, too."
Marc Charmatz, an attorney with the National Association for the Deaf, was surprised Redmond ran into snags trying to get an interpreter. Charmatz cited a 1977 federal law that mandates that deaf employes of the government are entitled to interpreters when taking a government-paid course.
"When the law is so clear that [getting an interpreter] shouldn't be a fly in the ointment process but something that should go smoothly," he said, "I don't have much sympathy for an agency that doesn't know the procedure at this point."
Not much of what went on in the class got by Johnson. Her hands were in constant motion and Redmond, who just one class before had felt uncomfortable and isolated, was now sharing even the small quips between the instructor and students.
With Johnson at his side, Redmond and the teacher talked at length about an air brushing tool that Redmond had at work. Although it was not as sophisticated as the one the class was using, the instructor suggested Redmond bring it in so that he could take a look at it. Redmond's next art course is in watercolor painting: a Diamond Labs spokesman said an interpreter will be secured for that class.
Interpreters are available at:
DeafPride, 2000 Rhode Island Ave. NE, Washington, D.C., 20018. 636-8830; TTY 636-8330. Charge: $10.50 an hour to $18 an hour.
Sign Language Associates, 918 16th St. NW, Suite 603, Washington, D.C., 20006. 861-0593; TTY 861-0594. Charge: $15.50 an hour and up, sliding-scale fee for income-eligible applicants.