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Deaf Build Float : Decorators Will Feel the Cheers

Times Staff Writer

The float that will lead the 99th Tournament of Roses Parade on Friday took shape Wednesday in unusual silence.

In contrast to the singing and chanting that surrounded the decoration of other floats, about 100 students from California State University, Northridge worked in virtual quiet.

The students, members of The Deaf CSUNians, a social club for deaf students, showed enthusiasm with a wink of an eye, a thumb’s up sign or a gentle pat on the back for a colleague.

The club is the first group of deaf people to decorate a Rose Parade float by itself, tournament officials said.

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Eastman Kodak, the float’s corporate sponsor, invited the group as a gesture to create good will among the West Coast deaf community, an Eastman Kodak spokesman said. The students accepted “to prove that we are capable and not handicapped or disabled,” CSUNian chairman Mark Sommer said through an interpreter.

“We just have a hearing problem, that’s all.”

Although hearing would seem to have little to do with the job of pasting flowers onto a float, the builders conceded that they were uneasy when they learned that their crew would not be able to hear instructions.

A Positive Experience

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“At first I was apprehensive,” said Frank Strayer, crew chief for the float building firm of C. B. Bent, who supervised the CSUN volunteers. “It didn’t take but a few minutes to realize that this was going to be a very positive experience. They’ve proved to be much better and much easier to work with than we thought.”

Left to themselves, the deaf students held animated conversations in sign language. But they came prepared to work with hearing people who had had little contact with deaf people.

The students brought along five hearing interpreters familiar with American Sign Language, who acted as liaisons between the students and the float builders.

When builders on the ground needed the attention of a student standing on the scaffolding near the top of the float, they simply rapped the scaffolding’s metal sides. Vibrations rippling through the temporary platform acted as a signal for those on the top to look down for instructions.

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And when all else failed, Strayer and his helpers pulled out copies of the float decoration manual, which lists each section of the float with detailed instructions on the type of flower that should cover that section.

“We point a lot and we shake our heads a lot,” Strayer added with a laugh.

“This had been a tremendous opportunity to open the eyes of the hearing world.”

CAPTION FOR DEAF I AND DEAF II

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