GREECE — David Justice pulled the pager-sized headlamp out of his pocket Oct. 9 and held it up for a class at St. Lawrence School to see.
On a trip around the world later that month, the light was expected to be one of the most important items that Justice, a sign-language interpreter, and Christy Smith, a former “Survivor: The Amazon” contestant, would carry in their hiking backpacks.
Smith, who is deaf but is able to read lips, speak and communicate in American Sign Language, explained to the students that the light will help her and Justice see each other at night so they can use sign language.
Smith and Justice, cofounders of the organization Discovering Deaf Worlds, which is intended to promote deaf awareness globally, left the United States Oct. 23 and traveled first to New Zealand to visit the Kelston and Van Asch Deaf Education Centers in Auckland and Christchurch. Before leaving for New Zealand, they said they were studying New Zealand sign language to help them prepare for the first stop of their journey. Students at St. Lawrence School monitored their progress during the year using the Internet and also prayed for the pair, said Principal Joe Holleran.
St. Lawrence School also supported the two globetrotters by donating to Discovering Deaf Worlds part of the proceeds from its Nov. 3 fundraising walkathon at the Blue Cross Arena.
St. Lawrence got involved with the Discovering Deaf Worlds effort because Justice is a 1992 graduate of the school. On Oct. 9 He and Smith thanked St. Lawrence classes for their help with the trip, and they told the students what it’s like for deaf people to communicate. Justice asked some classes if they had ever seen deaf people signing in public before. Most said they had.
“Did you know Rochester has one of the biggest deaf populations in the country?” Justice asked a class of fifth-graders. He noted that the city has a large deaf population in part because it is home to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, which is located at Rochester Institute of Technology.
“Sometimes there are no deaf schools in other countries,” Smith told a class as she explained why she and Justice wanted to take the trip. “We are going around discovering their world.”
The pair intend to videotape native speakers telling folklore and traditional stories in an array of international sign languages. They also plan to ask deaf leaders about issues of communication access, deaf education, and job opportunities for deaf and hard-of-hearing people. They will report on their travel adventures in videos that use multiple sign languages and English captions, and also hope to build a network that helps deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals worldwide get the tools they need to communicate.
Discovering Deaf Worlds’ Web site at www.discoveringdeafworlds.comwill include video blogs, photos and a monthly e-newsletter about their journey. They are also making plans to produce a DVD at the end of the trip, and possibly write a book about their adventures. The site and the trip are being underwritten by a network of supporters including Site Brand Builder, Rowe Photo and Ralph P. DeStephano. So far, the pair has raised nearly $30,000 to keep their Web site and the trip going as well.
“They both have a calling and a true desire to unite hearing and deaf worlds,” said Justice’s mother, Maria Justice of Parma. “If anyone can do it, they can.”
Smith and Justice, who both have degrees in sociology, met while they were working together in 2003 at the Aspen Camp School for the Deaf in Colorado. Smith lost most of her hearing in both ears as a premature baby and hears minimal sound through a hearing aid. After being the first deaf contestant to appear on "Survivor," she became a motivational speaker and developed a public television show for children.
Both she and Justice have traveled extensively and have advocated for deaf communities in the United States. That’s how their global idea was born.
“It started with both of us sharing our dream to travel around the world,” Justice said.
They soon found few resources to help deaf travelers and also were surprised to find no one had documented the range of deaf cultures around the world.
That’s how they decided to set out to see how deaf people live in other countries. Initially, the pair wanted to visit 50 countries, but they eventually decided to stay for a month or two in fewer countries, Justice said.
They say they will be working to overcome foreign language and foreign sign-language barriers as they attempt to communicate with deaf people who speak and sign in up to 20 different languages.
“It’s going to be a big, fascinating challenge,” said Smith, who noted they also would bring a picture book and sign-language dictionaries to help them communicate.
Their project has already attracted international interest. For example, a woman whose sister is deaf and lives in Bhutan wrote them about the cultural discrimination against deaf people in her country and about Bhutan’s relative lack of educational opportunities for deaf people.
Smith and Justice said they hope to be able to add Bhutan to their itinerary, which already includes New Zealand, Australia and Tasmania (an Australian island), Japan, China, Thailand, Nepal, India and Kenya. The pair plans to work on organic farms in various areas to help pay for the trip and also is arranging for places to stay through the free hospitality network called The CouchSurfing Project.
Smith said her 33 days competing on "Survivor" helped her prepare for the trip.
“It gave me the confidence to say, ‘I can do anything,’ ” she said.
She said trying to communicate on "Survivor" without the aids of sign language or pen and paper also made her feel like she was being a pest to the other contestants. However, she said that the experience taught her to consider whether deaf and hard-of-hearing people feel the same way in other countries.
“How do you overcome that?” Smith asked.
That is one question they said they hope their trip will help answer.