Easy Street: A new resource for deaf immigrants

9:36 AM, Jan 19, 2011   |    comments
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  • Easy Street: A new resource for deaf immigrants
  • Easy Street: A new resource for deaf immigrants
  • Easy Street: A new resource for deaf immigrants
  • Easy Street: A new resource for deaf immigrants

MINNEAPOLIS -- For those who can't speak English, getting the care they need in Minnesota can be difficult. But imagine also not being able to hear.

Now Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) has a new way to help.

There are many sign languages which vary from country to country. Even British sign language is different from American Sign Language.

What is universal are the objects we use everyday.

So at HCMC they've repurposed a mini city they call Easy Street. Complete with a grocery store, pharmacy, ATM, restaurant, city bus and more, it was initially designed to help patients with traumatic brain injuries recover from their injuries.

Now it's being used to teach American culture and sign language to the 200 deaf immigrant patients seen at HCMC each year.

Nathan Ellis of the Deaf Immigrant Center for Education said when he saw Easy Street, "I just thought to myself this would be the greatest sign language classroom ever. You could just point."

He said Easy Street is a great learning tool that will help immigrants not only get along better in daily life, it will help them get the medical care they may need.

Ellis said, "If we notice they have a hard time showing up at appointments, we can't give the care if they can't get here. The idea was, well, we have a bus here. We can teach them how to use the bus or how the metro system works because it is a complex system to learn."

At the Easy Street open house on Tuesday, a shy young, deaf, Somali woman who didn't want to be identified or show her face on camera did say through an interpreter, "Look. They have the bus schedules here. They teach us the time, how to have the correct change."

She said she felt very isolated the first several months after she immigrated to the United States. She said Easy Street is going to help a lot of deaf immigrants. She said, "It is wonderful. It's a great resource."

Those with HCMC and the Deaf Immigrant Center for Education hope it will ease deaf immigrants' transitions to a new culture and a new sign language.

Ellis said it's, "Hands on without the added pressure of being outside in the community."

Easy Street not only helps patients at HCMC. High school students and other deaf community members can use it for education and safety training as well.

(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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