Editor's Note: In the coming weeks, the News Bulletin will explore the challenges and discrimination the deaf community often faces.

To begin this series, we met with the Rev. Mark Ehrlichmann, director of the Agency for Deaf Advocacy and Services in Crestview and board member at Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf. Answers have been edited for clarity and length.

What would you like the hearing to understand about being deaf?
First and foremost, deaf people can do anything but hear. We are truck drivers, doctors, dentists, lawyers, teachers, businesses owners, scientists, counselors — the list goes on. 

Second, we deserve respect as a community and for our language, American Sign Language. It is the fourth most used language in the U.S. 

Third, simply talk to us; listen. We want your friendship and want to help in any way we can to improve our community together. We struggle to feel included in everyday communication because this world is audio-centric. 

It is time to learn that not all people need sound to live and work. We need visual communication to be a part of this society and you need visual communication, also.

What do the hearing need to know about the deaf community?

Our numbers increase every year due to the excessive use of loud electronics and technology and veterans returning home with war-related hearing loss. About 90 percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents. We are everywhere.

Also, don’t assume that someone who doesn’t respond is ignoring you. Consider they may not have heard you. Look at a deaf person when speaking and not at your computer or note pad. Listen to what the person says. Learn a few words in sign language. If you can, learn to say, “Hi, my name is ________. Interpreter is coming soon.” Learn to say thank you to a deaf customer. That would help a lot.

Be ready with a pen and paper for the deaf person to use. Please understand that ASL is a completely different language from English with different grammar and word order. ASL users may not understand what you write and may not be able to write well enough to make themselves understood.

Can you tell me a little about your organization?

We are a non-profit, community-based social service agency serving the deaf, hard of hearing and hearing individuals who work with deaf people in the northwest panhandle of Florida. The mission of ADAS is to provide social services, resources, advocacy and referrals to other services for deaf, hard of hearing and hearing individuals who work within the deaf community.

We aim to be highly visible and well known in our communities and for people to become fully aware of our services.

Who do you advocate for/what kinds of cases do you consider?

We advocate for deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, anyone with hearing loss, including military veterans and for hearing people who take care of deaf children. 

Issues faced by our clients range from denial of communication access, inadequate resources to help with communication access, discrimination regarding employment or interview opportunities, mentoring on self-advocacy and understanding of ADA rights, education of service providers on their responsibilities in providing access, as well as understanding how to interact with deaf and the impact of hearing loss on communication. 

Our area of advocacy focuses on the educational, medical, legal, law enforcement and correctional systems. 

What makes you passionate about helping the deaf community?

Personal motivation to empower other deaf and hard of hearing individuals to have equal access to communication, so that they may be able to achieve their dreams. 

My own experiences motivate me, as well as the heartache and anger at seeing oppression and discrimination occurring simply because the world does not understand or respect hearing loss on the same level as vision loss.

When did you receive a cochlear implant and how did it affect your way of life?

I received my right cochlear implant in March of 1999 as treatment for a debilitating, life-threatening condition called Tinnitus. The implant saved my life and allows me to work and live in gratitude. I do have a left implant but it is not being used because the cochlea nerve does not function well enough to benefit me. 

The implant is very subjective technology and cannot be seen as a standard fit for all. I encourage families and individuals to research fully all available resources for appropriate measures to assist in their own goals for communication access.

What are some ways the hearing can increase their awareness about the deaf community?

Listen to understand.

If someone requests that you look at them, please look at the person and not the computer screen, notepad or some other device.

Please don’t ignore a deaf person. Often people only pay attention to the person who is speaking and ignore the person who is writing a note with critical information.   

Also, please have some patience. The deaf person in front of you is just as important as anyone else. Take the time to write a note or call for an interpreter.   

Is there anything you'd like to add? 
Technologically speaking, it would be great if there were public videophones in certain areas like hospital or clinic waiting areas and emergency rooms, grocery stores, schools and college campuses, police stations, malls, etc. 

It would also be beneficial to add visual text to public address systems wherever they are used, including transit systems, buses, trains and air travel. 

Any televisions in public areas should automatically have captions on. All internet video content should have captions or subtitles; movie theaters should have captioned movies at all times.

This is about equal access to information. Without access, there is no freedom to make informed decisions about life or work activities, and in emergency situations, it's a matter of life and death.