DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Ed Chevy, left, signs with Marvin Cooper as Chevy's son, Clyde, 2, munches on snacks. The Hawaii Services on Deafness invited Cooper, a member of the organization's board of directors, and Chevy to talk about their experiences being deaf and what services are available.
2 deaf men welcome challenge of taking pilot's seat
Life without hearing has not kept them from following their dreams
Ed Chevy and Marvin Cooper have different backgrounds and different ways of communicating. But the two Hawaii men share a passion and a challenge.
They both love to fly, and they both were born deaf.
Cooper, 30, got his pilot's license at age 18 and flies whenever he can. He can't use radio-controlled airports, but communicates through instruments.
"I haven't crashed yet," he said, smiling.
Chevy, 50, said he has only 20 hours of flight time, but "one day I will be flying."
While deafness can be devastating, the two men and their passion for flying show the "richness of life without hearing," said Ann Katherine "Kathy" Reimers, executive director of the Hawaii Services on Deafness.
In a recent interview through a sign-language interpreter, the two men said they would like to start a club for deaf pilots.
The two have different signing styles. Cooper uses fluent American Sign Language and doesn't mouth words. Chevy doesn't use his voice, even though he can, but instead mouths words and has animated facial expressions. "Language is on the face," Chevy said.
Cooper, who founded an e-commerce company, Billion Coupons Inc., said his parents, sister and brother all are deaf and graduated from the internationally renowned Gallaudet University for the deaf in Washington, D.C.
But Cooper bypassed Gallaudet University and went to Indiana State University to learn piloting. His parents told him he couldn't be a pilot and encouraged him to go into computer technology, he said. "But I'm rather persistent and stubborn."
"At 14, every Saturday I snuck out and would go to flight school, learning how to fly," Cooper said. "A very sweet man named Charley took me under his wing."
He went to a community college with an interpreter while still in high school to get the experience.
Cooper now flies at Dillingham Field and goes to the mainland to fly with different pilots associations. He also likes to build airplanes and is working on a boat at Keehi Lagoon that he bought from the military.
Chevy, an educator and entertainer, said he went to the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley, then to Gallaudet. He returned to California, and moved to Kauai in 1985.
"I was involved in a theater group and we traveled extensively," he said. "Something about Hawaii attracted me. It wasn't the tradewinds or sun. It was something about the deaf community."
He worked with eight young people on Kauai, helping them live with deafness. "Many had lots of issues," he said. He took some to an international festival for deaf people at Gallaudet in 1989 to show them they had options "for other than minimal jobs."
Chevy said he was a certified auto technician with a reputation for "troubleshooting in electronics" when he moved to Hawaii. "It was a challenge," he acknowledged, because employers were willing to hire him but asked how he could hear a car engine.
He doesn't need to listen to an engine because he can tell how it is working by looking at patterns on the oscilloscope, he said. But because he is deaf, he said, he worked harder to prove his value.
Chevy worked from 1991 to 1998 at Hickam Air Force Base, retiring when a car hit him from behind when he was riding his motorcycle.
Chevy said he became interested in aviation when his father rebuilt a World War I fighter plane, like the Red Baron. The plane had been used in the 1930 Howard Hughes movie "Hell's Angels" and crashed, he said. His father spent 12 years restoring it, Chevy said. "It became my passion. That plane sits in the Virginia Air Museum."
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Growing deaf population suffers ‘hidden disability’
Hawaii has an estimated 100,000 deaf and hard-of-hearing residents and the number is growing, says Ann Katherine "Kathy" Reimers, executive director of the Hawaii Services on Deafness.
She said there is a significant increase in deafness "as people live longer and the world is becoming noisier."
"Deafness is a hidden disability," Reimers said. "Any day or morning, anyone can be deaf, suddenly."
The expanding deaf community includes many people who don't know sign language or have technology to facilitate communication, which raises serious issues in preparing for emergencies, she said. "How will we get everybody notified and into designated shelters? Close captioning is not adequate for everyone."
Her agency is working with the state Disability and Access Board, state Civil Defense, and other organizations to form an emergency disaster preparedness task force to ensure the safety of deaf, hard-of-hearing and deaf-blind people in case of a disaster.
The planning will include logistics to provide interpreters where needed and to get more visual warning systems in place rather than only audio systems, especially utilizing text messagers and pagers, she said.
Hawaii Services on Deafness, at 1833 Kalakaua Ave., is the only organization of its type in the state. It offers programs and services to provide help and information for clients and encourages communication between non-hearing and hearing communities. The group's programs include:
» Referral to a pool of 36 American Sign Language/Tactile interpreters statewide. Most are on Oahu and are part-time. Call 946-7300 with the time and date an interpreter is needed.
» Emergency sign language interpreting service available to police, hospitals, firefighters and other first responders around the clock. Reimers set it up in 1996 so a deaf person rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night could get an interpreter.
» An American Sign Language/Literacy Program with classes to provide a common language for families with deaf and hard-of-hearing children, also established by Reimers in 1996. "The tragic reality is more than 85 percent of deaf children grow up in hearing families that never learn to communicate with them on a significant level," she said.
» A Hawaii International Sign Language Festival, scheduled in August, to "showcase the language, arts and culture of the deaf, hard-of-hearing and deaf-blind community of Hawaii and countries around the world."
» Workshops to expand career and post-secondary opportunities for deaf, hard-of-hearing and deaf-blind students.
» Free interpreted tax assistance through the federal tax assistance program.
» Locating and providing access to resources and services for deaf, hard-of-hearing and deaf-blind residents.
» Increasing public understanding and awareness of issues concerning deafness and deaf-blindness.
For more information, call 946-7300 (V/TTY) or see www.hsod.org