'Walk4Hearing' breaking down barriers and building community
In less than a month, people from all across the state will come together to support Arizona’s deaf and hard of hearing community. Among the crowd at the ‘Walk4Hearing’ event in Mesa will be a team from Gilbert Public Schools. Students, families, and staff walking together to raise awareness.
“It's a lot of energy. You see people signing. You see people talking. You see people using technology to communicate. You just see people loving communication in all of its forms," said Dana Leonardo, a GPS teacher and the district’s team captain at the annual event.
‘Walk4Hearing’ is a free 5K walk and accessibility at the event is a top priority. It’s happening at Riverview Park next month, where those in wheelchairs will have access to sidewalks. Closed-captioning and American Sign Language interpreters will also be available to those attending. Leonardo describes the event as “high-spirited” with vendors, a raffle for prizes, and fun activities for children of all ages.
"People are just excited to come together and be themselves,” Leonardo said.
More than 50 people have already signed up to represent Gilbert Public Schools this year, but there is still time to join the team and donate to the cause. The district’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Department will receive 40% of the team’s donations. The money will be used to create social events throughout the academic year. Leonardo believes these extra funds are crucial to connecting GPS students.
"Oftentimes there are one, two, maybe three kids in the whole entire school who are deaf and hard of hearing that we see, so a lot of times these kids don't get an opportunity to know anyone else that is deaf and hard of hearing. We will set up events a lot of times afterschool on Wednesdays or on Saturdays, and we bring the students together," Leonardo said.
She also hopes to use some of the money to help coordinate community resource fairs for the department’s families, so they can learn more about what’s available to them and how they can be supported on a daily basis.
Organizers say ‘Walk4Hearing’ is the only event held across the country that brings attention to hearing loss and promotes the importance of hearing health. According to statistics, 15% of children ages six to 19 years old experience some degree of hearing loss.
“Just getting people out there is most important. Spreading that awareness is key," Leonardo said.
Arizona’s ‘Walk4Hearing’ is happening Saturday, November 6. Participants are encouraged to register online, but in-person registration will also be available the morning of the event. Check-in begins at 8am with the walk starting at 9:30am. For those unable to attend, you can still donate to the GPS team by giving through the website or donating on Facebook.