Tempe's first apartments for deaf at capacity - East Valley Tribune: Tempe

Tempe's first apartments for deaf at capacity

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Posted: Thursday, February 9, 2012 2:30 pm | Updated: 5:51 pm, Thu Feb 9, 2012.

A 75-unit apartment complex in Tempe is at maximum capacity six months after opening, but that's not what makes this complex different from any other in the city, the Valley or even most in the nation.

This apartment complex is specially designed for deaf senior citizens, one of only a few in the nation.

"This is only the 14th development of its kind in the United States. In supporting Apache ASL Trails, we are keeping our commitment of being a diverse community with a variety of housing choices," said Tempe Councilmember Corey Woods in a press release on the opening of the complex in July. "Apache ASL Trails will allow its residents to live without barriers, and that freedom is important for everyone."

Wide hallways and multiple common areas create a community. Video phones let residents talk with others in the deaf community with ease or through interpreters to those who are hearing. ASL-friendly businesses line the street level facing Apache Boulevard.

"I don't have to travel as much," Art Burnett, 68, a resident of the complex said through an interpreter. "If I get stir-crazy in my apartment, I just come down to the lobby. There's usually always someone around."

It's around the lobby and the adjoining community room that most residents congregate to greet and chat to one anther.

Burnett was the first resident to move into the Apache ASL Trails in the morning of July 14, he said. Prior to that, he lived alone in a mobile home in Tucson.

"Day-to-day things are not a source of stress," Burnett said.

Without an interpreter, people in the deaf community often have to use paper and pen to write back and forth to be understood, said Judy Mohan, Apache ASL Trails housing consultant, through an interpreter. They don't have to do that in the apartment complex where all but nine residents are deaf.

"It's not designed exclusively for deaf residents," Mohan said. "The housing is income-based."

Of the residents who aren't deaf, a few are learning ASL for the first time, she said.

While Burnett is a self-described "Chandler boy," about 50 percent of the residents are from out of state, Mohan said. Many moved to the apartment to retire or to live in one of a handful of ASL communities in the country.

The community has been in the works for years, but it was a Deaf Seniors of America national conference held in Arizona in 1997 that really got the push going to finding funding, Mohan said. But in 2008, the year construction was scheduled to begin, investors began pulling out due to the economy, she said.

In June 2010, construction began with the official ground breaking.

Besides having friends and neighbors who can sign, the community is across the street from a Valley Metro light rail station and near a bus stop. Plenty of parking is available for residents with cars.

It's close to Mesa Riverview shopping center. The building also has retail tenants who are ASL friendly, Mohan said.

"There is a hair salon stylist who knows some sign language," Mohan said.

Perhaps one of the most convenient businesses is a doctor's office that has office staff and doctors who can sign to at least some degree, said Sherry Monz, a deaf patient coordinator at Vista Medical Group. The group has three additional locations located in Mesa, Gilbert and Apache Junction.

"A lot of doctors don't provide interpretation," Monz said. This office has a full-time interpreter.

While it operates as a regular doctor's office and is open to non-deaf patients, many deaf patients come from all over the Valley, Monz said.

A few special accommodations have been made to the apartments, Mohan said.

Video phones make it easy for residents to converse in ASL with friends and family or use an interpreter to talk to callers on a regular phone. They have replaced the old type-phones that were harder for some deaf people who may not have as great a handle on English, Mohan said.

Doorbells sounds have been substituted with flashing lights that alert residents to visitors. Art by Jeanette P. Scheppach, a deaf artist from Colorado, decorates a number of the community areas.

"It's important to know that our community is just as diverse as the hearing community," Mohan said.

Apache ASL Trails is located at 2428 E. Apache Blvd., Tempe.

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