Why South Dakota?

I recently posted this in alldeaf.com discussion forum, and I thought it was worth repeating here.


I was alerted to this site recently, and I have read all replies to this topic thread. I thought this was a very good discussion. I wasn’t sure if I should jump in and give some answers or at least explain our perspective on why we are building Laurent. I’ll jump in anyway!

[Quick note: Yes, I am deaf. My wife is deaf and I have 4 deaf children. I have deaf parents and my mother’s parents are deaf. My partner is also my mother-in-law and she’s hearing and signs well enough to be understood. :-) ]

Our most frequently asked questions are: Why on earth did we choose South Dakota?! Why are we isolating ourselves from rest of the world?

I’ll address isolation issue first.

We have a big problem in America (and worldwide). We are isolated today, right this minute. We are undereducated. We are under employed.

Statistic #1: Estimated 25% of world population receives no education. World Federation of the Deaf estimates 80% of the world deaf/hh kids receive no education.

Statisitc #2: Out of 500,000 public elected officials (city, county, region, state and federal) in this Country, we have ZERO known deaf/hh signer holding an elected public office. If we are to "guess" that there’s at least 250,000 deaf/hh signers living in this country, then you extrapolate that with American population (290M), you get a number of approximately 480 elected officials that should be deaf/hh signers. We have zero.

Statistic #3: Before enacting Americans with Disabilities Act, 65% of disabled people were unemployed. Today, 16 years later, 67% are still unemployed.

Statisitc #4: Deaf employees in federal gov’t — in lower pay scale (GS1-GS7), we are in line with other disabilities. However, when you go over GS8 to GS15, we drop to just "barely" above people with mental retardation. And there’s only one known deaf person who ever made SES (Senior Executive Service) and that’s Robert Davila, former Assistant Secretary to Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS).

I can go on and on. Bottom line, we are isolated, undereducated and underemployed. Today. In "mainstream" America. Is it because as a group we’re dumb? Mentally incapable? No.

Part of this can be explained largely as "quality of life" issues. Who wants to sit on a City Council with 6 other members for hours at a time, yet have all information "filtered" through one or two interpreters. Miss out on the side chats, backroom dealings and so on. Fun? Enjoyable? No! Smart deaf/hh signers just don’t bother. They stay in areas where they know they will enjoy life to the fullest. Can we do it? Sure, but it won’t be fun. So why do it?

Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness. This is important… pursuit of happiness. So I want to nip this in the bud — if anyone says, "Boo hoo, life is hard. Just go and do it." True, yet there are limits to our endurance and patience.

We are building Laurent in McCook County, South Dakota to ensure maximum political influence and voice on every level — city, county and state. Right population size of the county (5,900 people) and state (760,000) enables us to be at the table — full time. Only few other states have lower or similar population profile: North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and Alaska. New Mexico is fairly low-populated state, but their water issues scares me. There does seem to be severe water shortages in areas and may get worse over the time.

Other factor in choosing South Dakota is the "deaf-friendliness". CSD is the world’s largest non-profit organization run by the deaf and is fairly well known in South Dakota. We also have Lt. Governor who is CODA. Yes, Rochester, NY; Fremont, CA; Metro Washington DC area; and a couple of others do meet the "deaf friendliness quotient". They just do not meet the critical criteria — political participation on all levels. And, Fremont… yikes, who can live there but pay $100,000 for a closet space?

For years, people told Ben Soukup that he has to move to other state in order to recruit people to live/work for CSD. Well, CSD was able to recruit so many good people (with exception of those with deaf children… SDSD sucks. It’s hard sell — they have wonderful elementary school teachers, rated by Steve Nover and Eddy Laird as one the best in the country for bilingual education, yet the school has 50 students.) Many families moved to Sioux Falls. And guess what? Many of them will tell you they LOVE it there.

Now it is unfortunate that CSD is going through one of the most difficult times in their history and many people have been laid off. A quite few of them will probably leave Sioux Falls in search for jobs.

My point here is that… people WILL move anywhere when they see the benefits: better (and fully integrated) public school education for both deaf and hearing, jobs in new fields never before made available, new business opportunities (your own McDonald’s franchise in fully sign language accessible environment for example), quality of homes, quality of community that’s hard to measure — being able to communicate with your local postmaster, store cashier or barber, and so on. Initially, we expect few families to move to Laurent and as time goes on, the domino effect — especially after people SEE the town being built (and it will be beautiful… none of that cookie cutter crap you see in new developments today).

And, oh yes, speech will also be taught at Laurent public school district. The school will be fully bilingual: ASL and English. Best part about this is that I can hope my 4 kids will have many hearing and deaf friends that can walk and bike to the school. By having hearing peers who can sign fluently, my kids would be more comfortable — hopefully — in asking them how to speak certain words and have real motivation to learn speech. It can be a great tool, but there’s no way that "speech" = intelligence.

And most importantly, we are building Laurent right next to I-90 in order to capture travelers and tourists as well as local business — we are basically building a town for the WHOLE WORLD to see, come and play with us. Just like visiting France despite not being able to speak French. Why? Because you want to experience culture, arts, language, food, architecture and so on! So it will be with Laurent, South Dakota.

Join us. Support us. Visit us. Vacation with us. Best of all, donate online if you can. :-)

Marvin Miller
The Laurent Institute

2 Responses to “Why South Dakota?”

  1. Eric Says:

    Well said! This is really sad that we are STILL isolated, undereducated, under employed, and still dealing with audism. I thought ADA would change the problem. But NOPE it didn’t.I don’t understand why Deaf people keep on hoping for a better support from government. We can make a HUGE difference if we roll up our sleeves and make the difference ourselves without their support. We definitely have the abilities to do this.Yes I know "South Dakota" doesn’t thrill a lot of people including myself. But if there are opportunities to live better, to get better job opportunities, to experience no communication barrier, to be treated equally without dealing with audism, and to not be isolated from your neighbors; I’ll move there within a heartbeat regardless of the location. I understand that that opportunity doesn’t convince some people. That’s fine with me. It’s your choice and I totally respect that. But my patience with audism is running out. Enough is enough. I definitely do not want my future children to experience the same “isolated, undereducated, under-employed, and audism” problems. We can change this. Time is running out and the problem needs to be stopped NOW. Here is my $10 donation to support this vision. I know it’s small but I am saving money for a house (hopefully in Laurent) at this momenet. I truly hope this vision will come true. Best lucks.

  2. Marvin T. Miller Says:

    Hey, sorry — I never saw your comment and it was held up waiting for my approval. I just did.I agree with you… this vision WILL come true. Why? A lot of people in our community is hoping this town will be built. Many of them have said, "I may not want to live there but I sure want to see it happen!"

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