Community Member and the City Build Bridges Between the Deaf Community and the Hearing World
Most people who meet Long Beach resident Katie Reid would never guess that her first language was American Sign Language (ASL).
As a young child, she watched as her father, who was born deaf, navigate through a world built for the hearing majority. Small mundane activities like ordering food at the diner was a challenge for him. This left a strong impression on her.
“Accessibility was lacking for my dad, so I became the bridge for him and the hearing world,” Reid says. “I used to see him feeling very excluded.”
For the last four years, Reid has been working with the City of Long Beach to help the deaf community feel more included. She and her team of sign language interpreters provide services at the Mayor’s events, City Council meetings, neighborhood functions and wherever else they are requested. This is part of the City’s wider effort in accommodating residents with disabilities, who make up about 10 percent of the Long Beach population, according to Census data.
This upcoming year will bring more robust Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) training for City staff across all departments, particularly those who interface regularly with the public, says Heather Van Wijk, the Citywide Accessibility Coordinator. Whether assisting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, low vision or totally blind, or have a speech or cognitive disability, the City is striving to not only provide effective communication for these residents and visitors but also assure them that they are part of the patchwork of this community.
“We are always striving to be more inclusive and not just compliant,” Van Wijk says.
For Reid, inclusivity has always been a part of her belief system. Although the rest of her family is “hearing,” ASL was the main language spoken in her home because they wanted the father to always be a part of the conversation.
As a queer woman, Reid recognizes the importance of widening accessibility for already marginalized groups. That’s why she volunteers with the LGBTQ Center of Long Beach to provide signing at events such as the Transgender Day of Remembrance, an annual vigil held at Harvey Milk Promenade Park in honor of transgender individuals who have lost their lives to hateful violence.
“The breakdown is, deaf individuals don’t know that Long Beach cares and can provide interpreting,” Reid says. “And hearing people don’t realize that there’s people like me who can and want to bridge the gap of communication. If [deaf people] knew how much Long Beach cared about the accessibility, I think more of them would come here like I did — because they’re welcomed.”
Her passion for providing accessibility extends into her work as a real estate agent in Long Beach. Every month at her office, she teaches free sign language classes on a sign-up basis. This past spring, she also started “Saturday Signs,” a short video lesson on Instagram teaching three new signs every week.
"[The deaf community] is a rich culture — it’s passionate, affectionate, close knit and welcoming,” Reid says. “It’s a culture that has strong roots. If you make the effort to want to be in it, they will welcome you with open arms. The deaf community wants people to take the time to learn to communicate with them.”
For more information on accessibility and disability resources in the City of Long Beach, visit http://www.longbeach.gov/citymanager/ada/resources. For more information on the free American Sign Language classes provided by Katie Reid, visit http://www.instagram.com/Reids_RealEstate.