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10-year-olds Erin Allen and Sydney Freed became fast friends during "Fabulous Friends with Flying Fingers" rehearsals.
10-year-olds Erin Allen and Sydney Freed became fast friends during "Fabulous Friends with Flying Fingers" rehearsals.

A Show of Hands: Kids Learn Sign Language and Disability Awareness

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Deaf theater has been around in grassroots and small-scale forms since the early 1900's, mostly with performances based out of deaf schools and cultural centers. The "Fabulous Friends with Flying Fingers" is a Glens Falls sign language entertainment group comprised of deaf, hard of hearing and hearing students from the southern Adirondacks and Saratoga regions. Over the last few years, the group has been busy entertaining audiences, young and old. As Todd Moe reports, for one family, it's enriched the life of their hearing-impaired child.

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Todd Moe
Morning Host and Producer
CONNIE FULLER: "They were all going to come in there. That's not how the practices go. If it's okay with you we'll leave it the way it is."

Okay.

CONNIE FULLER: "That's what they're used to so.."

Okay. 

TODD MOE: "It's a weekday afternoon in the atrium of an office complex in Queensbury. Teacher, Connie Fuller and eight elementary and junior high students gather in two rows preparing for an impromptu performance. They wear matching blue polo shirts and the set is simple. Small boxes to stand on and a boom box. There is music but this is theater for a world of silence. A world of the eyes and hands."

(Music playing. Male voice singing.)

TODD MOE: "Through movement, lip sync, acting and American Sign Language, the Fabulous Friends With Flying Fingers Company produces a form of theater that can communicate and educate both deaf and hearing audiences."

SANDY CLARK: "I'm deaf and I was raised hard of hearing and became deaf in the year 2000. And I have a cochlear implant so that's why I speak so nicely."

TODD MOE: "Sandy Clark is Executive Director of the Association for the Hearing Impaired in Queensbury, where the theater troop is based. A cochlear implant is an electronic device that restores partial hearing to the deaf. It's surgically implanted in the inner ear and activated by a device worn outside the ear. Over the last few years technological advances have allowed the deaf to become part of main stream society. But Clark says too often entertainment is out of reach for people who are deaf or hearing impaired. Originally formed by a group of hearing students the Fabulous Friends With Flying Fingers now has about twenty percent with some form of disability."

SANDY CLARK: "And it's nice that it's the hard of hearing and deaf are starting to come into the group and enjoy the music too and expressing themselves. And one of the things that Connie and I have always told them, that they're representing a deaf language and we're borrowing that language and using it and they are you know telling people about deaf culture that people can enjoy music with using their hands."

"I think it just gives them another way to build their self-esteem and they are so proud of themselves." Connie Fuller is co-founder of the group. "And it gives them a focus and to work together but they bring something to someone else. Sports are great and they like to do that but this really brings something to somebody who has a disability they don't have and I think they can, they can relate to that."

TODD MOE: "Fourteen year old Patrick Freeburn of Hudson Falls is a founding member of the group. He says the troop regularly performs for deaf and hearing audiences."

PATRICK FREEBURN: "All the people who it doesn't single out others from the big group of everybody you know. And they really enjoy seeing the signs."

TODD MOE: "One of the newest members of the group is ten year old Erin Allen. She has a bubbly personality and blond curls. She nods with a big grin when I ask if she enjoys being a part of the group."

ERIN ALLEN: "Cause I like doing sign language and I want to do it when I get older and do it for a living."

TODD MOE: "When I ask if she knows anyone with a disability or hearing loss she casually flicks her hair behind an ear to reveal a hearing aid and glances at her mother for a cue."

ERIN ALLEN: "Yes. Me."

TODD MOE: "Really."

ERIN ALLEN: "And some girl that goes to my church."

TODD MOE: "During a mid-rehearsal break, Erin quickly makes friends with some of the other girls in the troop. Her mother Shelly, smiles and tells me it hasn't always been easy for Erin to adjust."

SHELLY ALLEN: "A lot of times she was you know left out of certain situations and stuff and I was pretty much her main means of communication because I knew some sign language and other people around her didn't."

TODD MOE: "According to the National Center for Health Statistics, most people with hearing loss are older folks who have lost hearing with age. But statistics show about twelve out of every one thousand persons with hearing impairment is under eighteen years of age. Shelly Allen says the Queensbury School District has been supportive but there are occasional obstacles."

SHELLY ALLEN: "Some things that I had difficulty with with this has been the curiosity of children and sometimes things can be awkward and uncomfortable for Erin and the other kids of course too. But sometimes it would be hard to see your child being hurt by them not understanding and almost unacceptable at times as to how they react to the hearing aids. But she's really overcome it. She says to me "Mom, I'm not ashamed of it at all I like to wear my hair up in ponytail. I'm not gonna stop because of this.""

TODD MOE: "Sandy Clark says her goal for the Fabulous Friends with Flying Fingers Theater Troop is two fold. To break down some of the stereotypes of people with disabilities by teaching a new language and culture to hearing and non-hearing youngsters and to share the magic of music and theater."

SANDY CLARK: "The only issues with our children is hearing. Everything else is okay as long as they can get the message, be it sign language or through amplification or whatever it is. I tell them all the time our kids are only you know hard of hearing or deaf. They're still a child like every other child."

TODD MOE: "For North Country Public Radio, I'm Todd Moe."

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