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History
“A labor of love”:
a brief history of DEAF LIFE

“What we’re doing is a labor of love. We earn no money from DEAF LIFE. We’ve put many exhausting hours into producing the highest-quality product we can. I and my tiny staff are doing this on behalf of the Deaf community. It’s our way of being involved—and helping to make positive changes.”—Matthew S. Moore

1981: Hands-on media

Matthew Scott Moore, a student majoring in Social Work and minoring in Photography/Film at Rochester Institute of Technology, founded a new independent organization, the Student Communication Center, as a means of giving Deaf students hands-on experience in print and video media. He already had extensive experience with print media, having edited his high-school newspaper, The Reflector, at Indiana School for the Deaf. (And the college’s official publications, written by hearing professionals and printed by an outside company, had no student involvement.) The little collective published a newspaper, Perspectives, and produced a TV show, Sharing, on the Student Communication Network, or SCC-TV, later renamed Student Television Network, which aired after Moore graduated in 1983. He continued working with SCC as Alumnus Advisor.

1983: Independence and hope

After receiving his Bachelor’s degree, he promptly began work on his own independent multimedia venture, a continuation of his work at SCC. His initial ambition was to produce and host Deaf Magazine, a weekly magazine-format series focusing on Deaf Community topics: newsmakers, telecommunications, access, and ASL, for example.

1984: A pilot takes flight

Moore incorporated his own tiny, independent media company, now called MSM Productions, Ltd., and produced and directed the pilot episode of Deaf Magazine, a half-hour magazine-format show focusing on Deaf issues and personalities. The program was opened-captioned, and featured attractive graphics and original theme music. On June 23, Deaf Magazine aired on primetime on WOKR, Rochester’s local ABC affiliate, and drew unanimously favorable responses.

1984-85 Rounding up interest

Moore wanted to make Deaf Magazine a regular series. He drew up a detailed prospectus with a demographical analysis, outline of several proposed topics, and an estimated budget. But he wasn’t able to secure the corporate funding to make the series a reality. Like many other independent producers, he ran into obstacles at every turn. He approached the Small Business Administration, and was told, “Sorry, we can’t help media producers.” The money just wasn’t there. Many local corporations had contributed to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. As a result, the funding pools were dry. Without funding, the proposed Deaf Magazine series was forced to remain just that--a proposal on paper.

On paper? After encountering one frustration after another, Moore came up with the idea of starting a magazine as a way to raise the necessary funds.

1985-86: Going public

Moore also told his family and friends, who helped get the word out. Friends told friends who thought it was a great idea, and the volunteers’ staff list grew.

Linda Levitan, a student majoring in Painting/Illustration at RIT, already had a B.A. degree in English from New York University that she’d somehow never been able to put to use. In September 1986, having learned about the upcoming magazine, she sent in some samples of her writing. Moore liked her work, contacted her, and assigned her to do a book review for the Trial Issue. She was quickly recruited as Copy Editor.

David D. Long, who majored in Medical Technology and had a degree from SUNY in Medical Biology, would become the company’s bookkeeper, tech guy, and Production/Circulation Manager. He was a recruit from the SCC.

The origin of “DEAF LIFE”

At the time, there was no independent magazine for deaf people run by deaf people. There were several existing publications, but they were either house organs or newsletters (which could not take an independent approach), or newspapers.

The new venture would have a twofold aim: to keep deaf readers informed of what was happening (issues, events, and personalities) in an entertaining, accessible way, and to educate hearing readers about a much-stereotyped, much-misunderstood minority culture. Moore envisioned a colorful, slick-format trade-size magazine with advertisements for “mainstream” products (like cola and jeans) in addition to the traditional deaf-oriented ads for TTYs and assistive devices.

ASL users have an expression glossed as deaf-life, which literally means “the reality of being deaf.” Moore chose it for the title.

1986-87: Getting it together

DEAF LIFE’s original office, set up in the dining rom of his house, comprised a secondhand card table, a few chairs, and a state-of-the-art Macintosh Plus. (Later, a spare bedroom would be commandeered for additional office space.)

Negative attitudes in the Deaf community presented the toughest obstacle of all. The next big problem: timing. The projected publication date had to be pushed back several times. The Trial Issue, originally slated for publication in Summer 1986, was a year late.

Impossible

Negative attitudes in the Deaf community
presented the toughest obstacle of all.

July 1987: Something to show

In June 1987, the long-delayed Trial Issue was finally published and distributed. Copies were mailed out to 2,300+ purchasers in most of the states, who’d paid $2.50 per copy, sight unseen. This was a relatively primitive affair in terms of formatting, but, excepting the cover story—a follow-up on NTD’s founding members—it was in color. And it gave readers a glimpse of what was possible.

1987-88: The local scene

In the meantime (while rounding up subscribers), the MSM team started Deaf Rochesterians’ Newsmagazine, covering local events. That venture lasted a year and a half.

1988: Kicking off

Moore decided to go ahead and start publishing DEAF LIFE on a monthly basis. The “DPN” uprising at Gallaudet University in March 1988 had created major shock waves throughout the Deaf community and beyond. The money wasn’t there, but the time was ripe. Deaf Rochesterians’ Newsmagazine folded, and the MSM Productions team focused its energies wholly on DEAF LIFE. The first monthly issue, with a cover story on Dr. I. King Jordan, was published in July 1988. This first monthly issue also debuted the popular Q/A feature “For Hearing People Only.” The first installment was “What is ASL?”


1988-89 and on

Lack of funding meant that Moore had to curtail his original plan to have a full-color magazine and settle for a mostly black-and-white one with color reserved for the cover and a few inside pages. But, he reasoned, a black-and-white magazine could still look good.

At fhe first DEAF WAY International Conference and Festival, July 9-14, 1989, Moore had a booth in the expo area, and his team scrambled to cover the event. Moore also networked with Deaf people from Russia and other countries.

Passover

DEAF LIFE has a very high pass-along rate.
Subscribers like to share copies with friends.

Gradually, DEAF LIFE established a loyal base of subscribers, readers, and advertisers. DEAF LIFE has a very high pass-along rate. Many subscribers loan or give their copies to friends, students, co-workers, and relatives, or donate them to school libraries or classrooms. Doctors, counselors, and other professionals leave copies in their waiting rooms. Teachers use it in their classes. Copies are read and reread until they literally wear out! There are a number of Canadian and a smattering of international subscribers, including an enthusiastic Japanesee “bloc.”

From the start, the DEAF LIFE team sought to upgrade the magazine—both design and content. Everyone has input.

There have been several noteworthy contributors, hearing and deaf, who have sent in series, columns, articles, reports, clips, essays, letters, and poems—and suggestions.

Several DEAF LIFE covers (and the DeafLife.com logo) were designed by Deaf artists, which fits in nicely with Moore’s goal of supporting and encouraging Deaf artists and designers.

1991: a priceless suggestion

Moore helped organize the first ASL Literature Conference, held on October 10-13. Bruce Hlibok, who was participating in the Conference, performing an excerpt from his one-man show, The Deaf-Mute Howls, urged Moore to publish DEAF LIFE’s “For Hearing People Only” columns in book form.

1992: Launching an imprint

A sleek new logo debuted in the July 1992 issue, which sported a cover story on actress and advocate Terrylene Sacchetti.

“For Hearing People Only” proved so popular that Moore and Levitan, with the encouragement of teachers like Hlibok, decided to publish the columns in book form. In Spring 1992, Moore established a subsidiary, Deaf Life Press. In September 1992, Deaf Life Press published For Hearing People Only, an expanded and illustrated compilation of the first 48 installments. It was a hit. The first edition was sold out before June 1993. Plans for a second edition were immediately put in the works. By then, Deaf Life Press was busily at work on its second book. The third edition of For Hearing People Only, published in April 2004, has been a best-seller. A Student’s Workbook was published in 2008. Several books have been published to date; others in progress; more are being planned.

In October 1992, Moore chaired the Third New York Statewide Conference for Sign-Language Instructors, Signs ‘R’ Us: Teach All Kids ASL, the first of several Deaf Community conferences the company would be involved in; they would coordinate several for ASLTA, and run several independent ones.

1993: Time for reflection

With the July issue, DEAF LIFE celebrated its fifth anniversary, and published a special full-color retrospective. The following month, the second edition of HPO, with 60 chapters, was published. This was to remain in print for 10 years, going through 14 printings.

1994: Changes and growth

In March, Deaf Life Press published Meeting Halfway in American Sign Language, by Bernard Bragg and Jack R. Olson, with approximately 1,300 photographs by Denise Kyle Stenzel, making it the most lavishly photo-illustrated sign-language textbook ever published. That May, the company relocated to more spacious quarters in the Ellwanger-Barry Neighborhood, just off Highland Park. New amenities included a spacious office with a fireplace, and lots of warehouse space.


1996-97: More for the bookshelf


Great Deaf Americans: the Second Edition was published in August—an expanded, throughly revised, and updated edition of Robert F. Panara’s 1983 book—77 profiles, 70 chapters, 512 pages. GDA-2 remained in print for five years. That December, Deaf Life Press published St. Michael’s Fall, a collection of poems by Raymond Luczak. In 1997, Deaf Life Press published is fifth book: Robert F. Panara’s On His Deafness and Other Melodies Unheard.

1998: Getting wired

On February 26, MSM Productions launched DeafChat, the first element in its new portalInternet site, DEAF.com. Later additions to DEAF.com include the popular Deaf People site (www.deafpeople.com), DeafView (www.deafview.com), and DeafNotes (www.deafnotes.com). That July, DEAF LIFE marked its 10th anniversary with another special update issue, and accompanying poster of all 120 previous covers.



2000-2001: Up to the plate

In November 2000, Moore became president of the William Ellsworth “Dummy”Hoy Committee, andset up a commemorative Website, the ”Dummy” Hoy Homeplate (www.dummyhoy.com).On April 7, 2001, he gave a brief address at the dedication of Hoy Field at Gallaudet University. In October 2001, Deaf Life Press published its first children’s book, Victory Week, with text by Walter Paul Kelley and 19 stunning watercolor illustrations by Tony L. McGregor. It takes a child’s-eye view of DPN.

For the kids and the community

In October 2001, Deaf Life Press published its first children’s book, Victory Week, with text by Walter Paul Kelley and 19 stunning watercolor illustrations by Tony L. McGregor. It takes a child’s-eye view of DPN.

2004: The “Bible” arrives

In early April, For Hearing People Only: Third Edition was published. The new edition comprised 130 chapters, and contained new illustrations by Michael Freeman, an expanded bibliography, and a comprehensive index. At 768 pages, it was a thick-and-hefty book. Teachers jokingly referred to it as “the Bible.”

2005: Going independent

In June, MSM coordinated its first independent conference, ASL 4 Us Midwestern Conference: Teach All Kids ASL, in Indianapolis.


2006: Revival

In November, work commenced on reviving DEAF LIFE. Regular publication lapsed after the December 1998 issue, although 6 issues were published during 2002-2003 to complete Volume 11. The new compact format, just under 6" x 9", allows more focus on graphic elements and design. New features included “Deaf People in History” and “Deaf Person of the Month.”

2007: Across the ocean

DEAF LIFE recommenced publication with the January 2007 issue. It focused on the “Unity for Gallaudet” protests of 2006. Subsequent issues that year dealt with topics like the boom in baby signs, the plight of Deaf students of color whose support services were being curtailed, and the rediscovery of folk artist John Brewster, Jr. That Spring, the First National Deaf People of Color Conference was held in Indianapolis. (During the closing “round-table” session, attendees indicated, quite forcefully, that they wanted more!) In August, Moore visited Japan for the first time, giving presentations, networking, and making preliminary plans for the first foreign-language adaptation of For Hearing People Only.


2008: Bridges of friendship

The MSM team began preliminary on the Deaf Pilialoha Conference in Waikiki Beach, Hawaii—a first-of-its kind opportunity for Japanese and U.S. Deaf people to establish bridges of friendship and understanding. (Pilialoha is Hawaiian for friendship.) In September, the HPO-3 Student’s Workbook was published. On New Year’s Eve, Moore’s 50th birthday was celebrated in style with friends, family, and colleagues—a way of thanking them for their support of DEAF LIFE and MSM.

2009: More than chopsticks


Moore made a second trip to Japan in April to do preliminary work on DEAF LIFE Japan, the company’s first foreign-language edition, getting a crew together and mentoring them. In September, he revisited his alma mater, ISD, to interview seven teenagers and select two recipients of camperships to the Deaf Youth Camp of Color, just before the Second National Deaf People of Color Conference in Portland, Oregon. Moore personally sponsored the campership winners, Tiara Finch and Keren Martinez-Cruz; ISD raised funds for their transportation.

In November, Moore returned to Japan to work on the new magazine. In December: MSM Productions, Ltd., celebrated its 25th anniversary, in conjunction with the Deaf Pilialoha Conference. It brought together over hundred Deaf Japanese and Americans to learn about each other’s histories, cultures, languages, and experiences, and gave them an opportunity to socialize and network. Four sessions were presented by Japanese to the Americans; four by the Americans to the Japanese.

2010: Ripples and waves

On January 9, DEAF LIFE Japan was ceremoniously launched at a gala champagne banquet at Hotel Laforet Tokyo. On June 25, the Second National Deaf People of Color Conference kicked off in Portland, Oregon. Moore returned to Japan and the Philippines to continue work on the new magazine and HPO adaptation, and to lay the foundation of DEAF LIFE Philippines.



Having impact, making connections

DEAF LIFE isn’t just news and profiles and controversies. It’s about connecting, too. The DEAF LIFE team believe in what they’re doing and see it was a way of serving the community, of bringing people together. Requests for information and referrals continue to come in, poignant letters from parents of newly-diagnosed deaf children, from late-deafened adults who find themselves isolated, from hearing students who are thinking about becoming sign-language interpreters and feel a little scared, from teachers who want to photocopy “HPO” installments for their classes. Every such letter is a reflection of the impact DEAF LIFE has on their lives . . . and can have.

One of the advantages of independence is being able to say what needs to be said, without regard to the official “party line.” DEAF LIFE has NO official ties to any organization, agency, or institution. And that’s the way they want it.

As DEAF LIFE grew, Moore wanted to “keep on the pulse of the Deaf community.” In June 1991, DEAF LIFE established an Advisory Board of respected deaf professionals from a variety of backgrounds (culturally-Deaf to late-deafened) whose opinions and guidance were valued. This in no way diminished DEAF LIFE’s proudly independent stance.

The shocking truth

What makes DEAF LIFE unique? For one thing, it’s written and produced by Deaf people.

For another thing, it’s a magazine for the Deaf community—a forum for the free sharing of “inside” and “outside” views--i.e., “DeafView,” “A Few More Words,” and “Letters to the Editor.” Readers are offered plenty of opportunity to get involved. And, judging from the steady influx of letters, they do.

Furthermore, DEAF LIFE is a magazine for the Hearing community. Moore recognizes that change is a mutual process. Improving the conditions of the Deaf community demands not only a strong sense of Deaf pride and responsibility, but also recognition by the Hearing community that Deaf people have their own linguistic and cultural identity. Contributions, questions, and suggestions from hearing readers are valued. And if hearing readers complain about being snubbed by deaf folks, deaf readers have their own complaints about hearing folks!

DEAF LIFE has welcomed “oppositional” views and opinions from all factions of the community, including views that are not popular with Deaf Culture advocates. “We seek to promote free discussion and debate of controversial topics,” says Moore.

The magazine has gradually taken a more political slant in support of Deaf Culture. Says Moore: “DEAF LIFE belongs to the Deaf community. We have to take a stand.” But even today, Moore finds deaf people who believe that DEAF LIFE is run by hearing people!

One astounding fact about DEAF LIFE is that the staff earns nothing from it—not Moore, not Levitan, not Long. Most of its writers contribute for free. All revenues are re-invested into the company and go towards the cost of printing, upgrading the equipment, and improving the coverage. The team very rarely takes anything close to a vacation. Levitan says, “The only ones who get rich are the readers. We want DEAF LIFE to enrich their lives. We’re not making any dough on this.” It boils down to this: DEAF LIFE is a labor of love.

Looking ahead

DEAF LIFE is still growing. Even though the DEAF LIFE staff takes pride in their achievements, they are never satisfied. Indeed, they’re constantly striving to improve the quality and depth of the coverage, the appearance of the magazine, its timeliness and appeal. It’s an incurable itch. There are an endless variety of issues that need to be addressed, contributors’ articles to be prepared, stories to be written, photos to be gathered, follow-ups to do. More books, too. Expanding Web services. And DVDs. . . why not? “Migawd,” says Moore, “there is so much to do. There is sooo much to do.”

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