Washington to hold its first social for the deaf

Published 7:53 pm Saturday, September 19, 2015

CAROLINE HUDSON | DAILY NEWS TOGETHER WE CAN: Marion O’Neal (left) stands with her friend and interpreter Stephanie Walters. The two are organizing Washington’s first silent social for the deaf and hard of hearing.

TOGETHER WE CAN: Marion O’Neal (left) stands with her friend and interpreter Stephanie Walters. The two are organizing Washington’s first silent social for the deaf and hard of hearing.

There aren’t many resources for Washington residents who are deaf or hard of hearing, but one local woman is trying to change that.

Marion O’Neal, who is hearing and visually impaired, has helped organize a social event for the deaf or hard of hearing at Washington’s On The Waterfront restaurant on Oct. 3.

She said there are plenty of “silent socials” for the deaf or hard of hearing in the big cities, such as Greensboro or Raleigh. Silent socials are gatherings of those who are deaf to bond and build a sense of community among themselves. The “silent” part comes into play because they usually communicate via sign language rather than speaking.

There have even been socials in Williamston and Plymouth, but not in Washington, she said.

“A silent social is bringing people together to communicate,” O’Neal said. “We decided that it would be a good idea because Washington has never had a silent social.”

“A lot of people don’t know that there are deaf people here. They just ignore it. … Hopefully we can bring these people together,” she said.

O’Neal did not begin to lose her hearing until her teen years at Belhaven High School. She said she doesn’t know exactly why it happened, but she thinks it was due to either her having the chicken pox, measles and mumps back to back, or her playing in the high school band.

O’Neal said she didn’t realize she was losing her hearing until one night when her family was watching television together. She noticed her mom staring at her. As it turned out, the telephone right beside her was ringing, and she wasn’t able to hear it. That prompted her to go to a doctor in Greenville, where she was diagnosed.

O’Neal said the hearing loss was only in one ear at first, but it happened in both ears over time. The only other person in her family who is hearing impaired is her older sister, she said.

“I never really thought about it because I’m a happy-go-lucky person,” O’Neal said. “Being deaf, that’s something that I grew up with.”

But it hasn’t slowed her down. O’Neal said she studied business administration in college and retired from J.P. Morgan on Wall Street after 25 years. She has one son and remains involved in the Washington community now, where she lives with her husband of 40 years. She is also actively involved with North Carolina Deaf-Blind Associates.

“I didn’t know how to deal with it. … I never stopped running my mouth. If I stop using my voice, I’m going to lose my voice,” she said, drawing a laugh from her interpreter and friend Stephanie Walters. “I think I do well as a hearing impaired person.”

Despite her success, O’Neal said it would still be nice to have a group of people like her come together and bond.

“I like to be around people like myself, but it’s not happening. I want to see them when I go to camp and going to the (NCDBA conference in Atlantic Beach),” she said. “It’s kind of hard because there are no people that I can communicate with every day.”

O’Neal credits Walters with coming up with the idea for the social. She said they are hoping to have about 30 people there, maybe even some from Greensboro and Raleigh.

“She brought it up. I said, ‘Oh that’s great,’” O’Neal said.

Walters said the main goal is to make the community aware that there are deaf or hard of hearing people who live in Washington.

“You are a wonderful person, and you do, you do well,” she said to O’Neal. “That’s the goal, to allow more people to come from Washington.”

If all goes well on Oct. 3, O’Neal said they plan to have another social in May 2016 on the Belle of Washington.

“They’re hiding. They’re ashamed. I’m not ashamed,” she said. “I just keep going. I don’t let myself down.”


For more information about the silent social on Oct. 3 at On The Waterfront in downtown Washington, email Marion O’Neal at marion1684@suddenlink.net.