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Signing Savvy is an ideal resource to use while you learn sign language. It includes the ability to view large sign videos, build your own word lists and share them with others, create virtual flash cards and quizzes, print signs, build sign phrases, ...and more

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5 Articles for Deaf Awareness Week

Deaf Culture   |  Tuesday, September 23, 2014

By Jillian Winn

Here are some helpful Signing Savvy articles to check out for Deaf Awareness week:


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Deaf Awareness Week is September 22-26, 2014

Deaf Culture   |  Sunday, September 21, 2014

By Jillian Winn

Deaf Awareness Week this year is September 22-26, 2014. Deaf Awareness Week, also called International Week of the Deaf (IWD), is celebrated annually and ends with International Day of the Deaf. Deaf Awareness Week is celebrated by national and regional associations of the deaf, local communities, and individuals worldwide.

The purpose of Deaf Awareness Week is to increase public awareness of deaf issues, people, and culture.  Activities and events throughout Deaf Awareness Week encourage individuals to come together as a community for both educational events and celebrations. Find more information on Deaf Awareness Week.

There are many ways to participate in Deaf Awareness Week.  Read about some ways people around the U.S. recognized Deaf Awareness Week last year by reading our 2013 Deaf Awareness Week Recap

Share what you did during Deaf Awareness Week by leaving a comment below, telling us on our Facebook Page, or contacting us.

We will be posting things all week, so check out the Signing Savvy website, Facebook Page, and Twitter for posts and more information on Deaf Awareness Week.


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Living Loud: K.T. Maviglia - Miss Michigan and Miss America Contestant

General Interest   |  Friday, September 19, 2014

By Jillian Winn

This article is part of our "Living Loud" series, which highlights famous people who are deaf or hard of hearing and their impact in the world.

As a follow-up to Marta Belsky's recent blog article on Heather Whitestone, we wanted to share the story of another Miss America contestant with hearing loss. K.T. Maviglia was crowned Miss Michigan and competed in the 2015 Miss America pageant. She struggled with insecurity when her hearing loss made her different, but credits the Miss America organization for helping her regain self acceptance and self esteem. She says that along with her mom, her role model is Heather Whitestone, Miss America 1995 who was deaf. She is now using her Miss Michigan platform to help others with hearing loss.


In fourth grade, at the age of 9, K.T. Maviglia was getting confused in the classroom and her teacher noticed she was learning differently than the other students. Her hearing was tested and it was discovered that she had sensorineural hearing loss and auditory discrimination disorder.

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs due to an issue in the inner ear and is most often caused by hair cell abnormalities. Sensorineural hearing loss can range from mild to severe hearing loss, including total deafness. K.T. had moderate hearing loss and opted to wear hearing aids, which amplify sounds at preset frequencies to target the ranges effected by the hearing loss. In addition to wearing hearing aids and a battery pack, her teacher wore a microphone and four speakers were added to her fourth grade classroom.

K.T. struggled with the change. She told, “I went from being the popular kid to the kid who needed special attention. It was hard for me to accept as part of who I was.”

She boycotted her hearing aids altogether in high school and tried to compensate by sitting in the front of the classrooms and asking extra questions.

Becoming an Advocate for Hearing Loss

K.T. Maviglia
2014 Miss Michigan KT Maviglia of Dundee poses for a portrait at Heritage Landing in Muskegon on June 15, 2014. (Photo Credit: Madelyn Hastings, MLive Media Group)

Now, at 22, she proudly wears her hearing aids and is using her Miss Michigan and Miss America contestant platforms to advocate for those with hearing loss. She told, "The Miss America organization is what made me get back into it because I realized that this is a part of the unique me, it's part of who I am and I need to embrace it."

K.T. founded the KT Maviglia Foundation for Hearing Disabilities in 2012 and chose LISTEN UP: Advocating for those with Hearing Disabilities as her Miss America cause. She also co-authored a legislative bill in Michigan which aims to improve services and insurance coverage for children with hearing loss. She hopes to use the Miss Michigan platform to gain support for her bill and wants to work with children with hearing loss similar to her own to help them embrace their differences and encourage them and others, showing that health problems don’t need to hold you back. “No matter what adversity you go through, no matter what challenges you have in your life, you can overcome them, you can deal with them and you can be a success.”



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Living Loud: Heather Whitestone - First Deaf Miss America

Living Loud: Heather Whitestone - First Deaf Miss America

General Interest   |  Tuesday, September 16, 2014

By Marta Belsky

This article is by Marta Belsky. Marta is a third generation ASL user. She has been teaching ASL for 30 years and enjoys sharing her native language with new users.

This article is part of our "Living Loud" series, which highlights famous people who are deaf or hard of hearing and their impact in the world.

Heather Whitestone was the first deaf Miss America and the first Miss America with a disability. She competed for the Miss Alabama title three times before winning it, which finally sent her to the Miss America competition. She won Miss America in 1995 in Atlantic City.


Heather was born hearing in 1973. When she was 10 months old, she got sick with a high fever, which left her deaf.

Did you know?

Fevers burn off the hair receptors in the inner ear (cochlear); without those receptors, sound isn’t recognized or processed by the ear.

Communication and Education

Heather started out at her local school, using speech and hearing aids, but by 4th grade, she wanted to meet other deaf kids. She attended the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis, which focuses on developing speech and speechreading skills as the primary form of communication. She went back to her local school for high school.

Did you know?

Deaf students can go to schools that teach different methods for communication, including sign language, lip reading, speech, and fingerspelling. Some schools use a mix of methods, some primarily focus on just one. Deaf students can attend the local public school, some go to day schools that have programs specifically designed for deaf students, and there are residential (boarding) schools where deaf students live during the school year and go home during breaks and vacations.  Read more about Educational Options for Children that are Deaf or Hard of Hearing


Learning the Ropes

Heather's first experience participating in the Shelby County Junior Miss program (now called the Distinguished Young Women program) gave her confidence to begin entering pageants. She started competing in pageants, including Miss St. Clair, Miss Jacksonville State University, and Miss Alabama. She won Miss Cullman Area in 1994, which sent her on to the Miss Alabama competition and she was also crowned Miss Alabama in 1994. Each pageant helped her to figure out how to communicate with judges and make an impression.

There she is, Miss America!

Heather Whitestone crowned Miss America in 1995
Heather Whitestone signing "I Love You" in ASL after she was crowned Miss America in 1995. (Photo Credit: Tom Costello, AP Photo)

Heather said, “The first time I stood on the stage in Atlantic City and looked out over the empty convention about a year before I won the Miss America title, I was amazed not at its size, but at the fact that I was there. The journey to the Miss America Pageant did not begin four years ago when I first competed in a local pageant. It began when I was eighteen months old, when I lost my hearing.” She explained that when her mother was told she was deaf, she was also told that a normal life would be impossible for her because of her deafness. However, her mom had faith and was determined for Heather to have the life she wanted. Heather said she was molded by parents, teachers and speech therapists. When her mom struggled to explain the concepts of rhythm and pronunciation, she enrolled Heather into a ballet class in hopes she could better understand rhythm. She soon developed a love for ballet and danced all the way to the Miss America competition.

The Miss America pageant rules do not allow contestants to have any help (like coaches or interpreters) while competing. For her talent, she did a classical ballet en point to Sandi Patti’s “Via Delarosa.” She had spent two years preparing it, counting the beats with her hands on the stereo speakers. Once the music started, she did every move according to the memorized count in her head.

Watch Heather’s dance:

During her year as Miss America, Heather introduced her five-point STARS program: “Success Through Action and Realization of your Dreams.” She traveled to every corner of the country speaking to corporations, non-profit organizations, churches and government, including the FBI and CIA.

Heather Whitestone
Heather Whitestone, after becoming Miss America, in 2012. (Photo Credit: Heather Whitestone [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

In the Spotlight Once More

In 2002, Heather elected to get a cochlear implant for her right ear. She had depended on some residual hearing in her left ear in conjunction with the implant, but lost that. In 2006, she got a second implant for her left ear. Her decision to have the implants was big news, and she was featured on several news programs.

She said she decided to get a cochlear implant because she wanted to hear her family’s voices, make further strides in achieving her goals, and experience the hearing world.

After the Crown

Heather has traveled nationally and internationally as a motivational speaker and has been a spokesperson for the Starkey Hearing Aid Foundation, the Cochlear Implant Company, and the Helen Keller Foundation.

Heather is an author of four books - Listening with My Heart, Believing the Promise, Let God Surprise You, and Heavenly Crowns

She has volunteered her time for Republicans causes and spoke at the Republican National Convention for both Senator Bob Dole and George W. Bush.

She met her husband, John, in Washington, D.C. during her year of service as Miss America when he was working as a Legislative Aide to Speaker Newt Gingrich at the Capitol. They now live in St. Simons Island, Georgia and are raising four sons.

Related Books (by Heather Whitestone)

Listening with My Heart

Believing the Promise

Let God Surprise You

Heavenly Crowns


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About the Author

Marta Belsky Marta Belsky is a third generation ASL user. She has been teaching ASL for 30 years and enjoys sharing her native language with new users. Marta is on the Lansing Community College Interpreter Training Program Advisory Board and has also been a board member for the Michigan Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and the Michigan Chapter of American Sign Language Teachers Association.

More about Marta  |  Articles by Marta

Remind students to “Ask the Teacher for Help” with our two minute WonderGrove animated Lesson

Learning Tips   |  Tuesday, September 9, 2014

By Jillian Winn

Help students get back into the swing of the school year by showing them our 12 special "Back to School" instructional WonderGrove animations featuring sign language. The "Ask the Teacher for Help" animation is great to encourage students to ask for help when they are confused.

Watch the “Ask the Teacher for Help” instructional animation:

Watch Ask the Teacher for Help

Accompanying the animation, there are extention lessons for Pre-K, Kindergarten, First Grade, and Second Grade, all which have been crafted by educators and align to the common core standards.  Download the extension lessons and use them at home or in class for easy activities that reinforce the lesson.  

In addition to talking about the lesson in the animation, it’s a great idea to talk about the signs used with your students.  The signs featured in “Ask the Teacher for Help” are: 

You can also use our pre-made Signing Savvy Ask the Teacher for Help word list to go through the signs in the same order that they are shown in the animation.

Get free access to all of the "Back to School" WonderGrove instructional animations featuring sign language while you still can!  We are offering 30-day free trial promotion, but you have to sign up by September 12, 2014.  Register for the free WonderGrove trial and find out more.


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