One student recalls that two years ago he could not plan meals, use a dictionary or balance a checkbook.
Now, thanks to the Self Actualization Institute for the Deaf, the young man lives in a house with five other deaf adults and has learned those skills and many more.
"Most of our clients have grown up not receiving much attention," said instructor Mike Eisele, who is deaf. "Teachers have told them they are wrong or dumb. Some have been abused or have had overly protective parents. All of them have low self-esteem" coming into the program.
Led Sheltered Lives
Clients who have been sheltered at home or in institutions all their lives are taught "the things most of us take for granted," and the program is very successful, according to Director Dan Levitt.
"I've learned about the outside world and I can do things now that I couldn't do before," one student said. "Before, I had very little communication with other people. I've learned a lot about communicating with hearing people."
Institute officials asked that students' names and ages not be used.
At the Queen Anne House, the six residents live under 24-hour supervision, and instruction is given in living skills such as shopping, cooking, cleaning and budgeting.
"It's quite a normal home environment," Levitt said.
"When I have my own home or apartment in the future I'll feel very free and comfortable," one resident said.
After living at the house for one year, some residents move on to an apartment, where they receive 10 hours of supervision each week. Those who make that transition successfully can then move to a graduate apartment, meeting with institute staff only once a week.
Many clients use their Social Security to pay rent if they enter the residential program, which enrolls 25 students per year.
The institute, which is funded by the state Department of Rehabilitation and United Way, was founded in 1976 and has served 1,500 students. Clients are referred by a state rehabilitation counselor.
The residential program is complemented by classroom instruction at the institute's offices at 6464 Sunset Blvd., where courses include nutrition, insurance, public transportation and use of special telephone equipment. All instruction is geared toward promoting independent living.
It's important that deaf students learn language and writing skills, instructor Jeff Lubman said. "I don't want them to depend on other people to fill out forms," he said.
Both the classroom and the residential program are designed to give students a support group, Levitt said. Last week, the students presented book reports in class, drawing applause from classmates. "The socialization aspect is very important. . . . They develop lasting friendships," Levitt said.
Interaction with the institute's instructors and house supervisors is also very important, Levitt said.
"It's not an accident that all of our teachers and house supervisors are deaf," Levitt said. "One of the things we do is provide role models."
And there are plenty of accomplished deaf role models. Instructor Jeff Lubman is a graduate student at California State University, Northridge, where he is training to be a science teacher for deaf and hearing students. House supervisor Marsha Goeken studied drama at Gallaudet, the leading U.S. college for the deaf, and has worked in deaf theater in Ohio.
"It's really fantastic, this interaction with deaf people," Goeken said.