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Nothing beats face-to-face for deaf in Yuba-Sutter
Steven Stacy, 69, has a lot to say, and he uses his hands, his face and sometimes his entire body to say it.
On the first Thursday of every month, Stacy holds court with his friends at Round Table Pizza on Gray Avenue in Yuba City.
The retired school district employee cracks jokes, and covers topics far and wide with other deaf and hard of hearing residents of Yuba and Sutter counties.
His wife, Susan Stacy, 59, who is also deaf, helped start this social group more than 25 years ago.
She laughs as her husband dramatically extolls the virtues of his favorite muscle car — a 1970 Chevrolet Camaro — using American Sign Language.
"It has to have a 427 engine, two carburetors ..." he explains, by way of an interpreter.
The car specs are lost on all but the few sitting nearby who share his passion.
Deaf community social gatherings, once a necessity, are shrinking across the country, thanks to a growing number of devices by which deaf people can now communicate with one another, and the hearing world.
The number of attendees at this Yuba City soiree has diminished somewhat in the last decade, too.
Text messaging and FaceTime, an application that allows callers to see one another — and watch one another using sign language — have changed life dramatically for those who cannot hear.
But nothing beats face-to-face meetings, said Kim Dethlefsen-Koons, 37, coordinator for NorCal Deaf & Hard of Hearing, Inc., and a sign language instructor at Yuba College.
"Technology has made us more independent," she says, "but this is like a second family."
And the need for human contact and socialization with other deaf people is great.
"The deaf are isolated," Dethlefsen-Koons says.
As a resident of south Yuba County, a place where the cellphone coverage is sometimes spotty, isolation has been a pronounced factor in her own life.
She grew up in Rio Oso, but attended schools in Yuba City, where she could get sign language assistance.
"In that rural community, I was the only deaf person," she says of life at home.
The non-profit group she represents serves roughly 100 clients in the area.
Khalil Jenherd, 33, says he counts on this group to provide a healthy social outlet.
The Pakistani-born cook has a brother who is deaf, as well as sister who can hear. But moving to the US meant learning to communicate in an entirely different sign language.
He signs in Punjabi and English now, but has never mastered written English.
For someone who does not hear language spoken regularly, learning to write in Standard English is challenging even for someone born in the country.
And according to Arlene Noteman, 71, a veteran professional sign language interpreter, the ability to read lips is largely overrated.
"Less than 32 percent of what we say is visible on the lips," she says. "So even the best lip readers are guessing most of the time."
Dethlefsen-Koons glances around at the 25 or so deaf people engaged in animated conversations around her in the restaurant's party room. Another half dozen students of sign language and some family members occasionally join in.
Employees and regulars are accustomed to witnessing this boisterous monthly gathering.
Round Table has been the group's spot to meet since January. Another pizza restaurant had been a go-to place in previous years.
Communication between deaf people has distinct qualities, she says, not only because of the physicality of sign language, but because of the demonstrative nature of the culture.
"We're visual people," she says, "and we're very huggy."
Humor of all kinds dominate the larger group conversations.
Steven Stacy's frenzied, full-body storytelling get his friends laughing.
He says he's glad just to be alive, after fighting Stage IV lung cancer seven years ago.
"I quit smoking," he says, "I'm telling you, it was tough."
Then he demonstrates what he had been liked as a sign-language-talking chain smoker.
Another explosion of laughter follows his assertion that he can sign with his feet.
The two-hour period that constitutes the Thursday meetup is winding down, but there is no sign of movement toward the door.
"Deaf Standard Time" is the universal joke about this phenomenon, Dethlefsen-Koons explains.
"When hearing people gotta go, they gotta go," she says, smiling. "But we take forever to leave."
CONTACT Nancy Pasternack at email@example.com or 749-4781. Find her on Facebook at /ADnpasternack or on Twitter at @ADnpasternack.