The Gallatin Association of the Deaf was established in the Gallatin Valley in 2008 and offers a place for those in the community that are Deaf, Hearing impaired, or Hearing to gather and socialize.
Great Falls has a larger Deaf population in relation to the rest of the state, in part because of the Montana School for the Deaf & Blind, and different services and job opportunities. With that said, Deaf people are everywhere and they network to find others to communicate with and to seek services.
“Well, Deaf people are here and they need access, and we need allies as well that support them in the community,” Shawn Tulloch said.
“Building bridges to improve relationships so people aren’t afraid the first time they meet a Deaf person, they’re actually very friendly, very warm,” Cheryl Bailey said, “We can always find a way to communicate.”
When GAD first began, there were around 24 members, but over the years people moved away or graduated from MSU, leaving 7 members today in the Valley.
Living outside of Great Falls, Tulloch sees three main concerns for the Deaf community: Accessibility, Self-advocacy, and Preservation of American Sign Language (ASL). For Tulloch, the preservation of her language is the most important concern.
“It’s really important for kids to experience ASL, right when parents find out that their child is hard of hearing they are shocked,” Tulloch said, “It could be the first time that parent is meeting a Deaf person for the first time, is their kid.”
Bailey adds that it’s important to encourage children and explain to them the language of ASL.
“It’s really important for hearing families that have a Deaf child to give that support for them, and also to, for example, have a Deaf mentor to teach the family signs,” Tulloch said.
Throughout the years, groups such as Bozeman Deaf Chat have been created to continue fostering connection among the Deaf community, as well as open the door for those that are Hearing wishing to learn ASL and more about Deaf culture.
Digital Extra: MTN's Jane McDonald gives a quick demonstration of the American Sign Langage