Deaf community mourns loss of historian, activist Bahl
Minnesota’s chief historian of the deaf community activist Douglas Bahl passed away January 21. On New Year’s Eve, Bahl, 62, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer
Bahl and his wife, Sue Kovacs-Bahl, were in Arizona on a vacation when he became ill. They had been longtime residents of St. Paul. The couple had looked forward to moving to Arizona after retirement in two years.
Prior to his death members of Minnesota’s deaf community gathered to prepare American Sign Language (ASL) messages of support and encouragement for Bahl.
Bahl’s work to compile deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing history gave him worldwide recognition. One of his major projects was the book commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf in Faribault, where he had been a student and later, a teacher.
Bahl’s historical expertise covered other topics, ranging from treatment of the deaf during the Holocaust to work and life of architect Olof Hansen and his buildings. Hansen, who was also deaf, designed St. Paul’s Charles Thompson Memorial Hall and many other prominent buildings. Thompson Hall was close to Bahl’s heart, Bahl was a leader in efforts to preserve Thompson Hall. the nation’s oldest social hall for the deaf. The building at Marshall and Fairview avenues in St. Paul is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1916, Thompson Hall, with its large windows that let ample light in was designed for ease in use by those who communicate through ASL. Work to create and preserve archives of deaf community history and historical plays staged at Thompson Hall were also part of his work to promote community history.
He also donated much time to volunteering at and organizing community events.
“My dad always felt it was so important for deaf people to know about their own heritage,” his daughter Kari Bahl told the Pioneer Press. “He dedicated his life to researching various topics and various deaf individuals throughout history in order to encourage those to aspire to higher standards.”
Bahl served on numerous boards, commission and committees, including serving as president of the Minnesota Association of Deaf Citizens and director of the Miss Deaf Minnesota pageant. Bahl was also involved with the National Association of the Deaf and its programs including the interpreter assessment program.
Bahl was a strong proponent of learning and teaching ASL. Both of his children are ASL teachers. Bahl was equally well-known as an activist, working to shape and pass policies and laws at the local, state and federal levels. Recently he made headlines after a 2006 traffic stop in St. Paul. Bahl was pulled over for a traffic violation. His wife was hospitalized and Bahl was hurrying to be with her. He asked the officer, who didn’t know ASL, to communicate in writing. Instead the officer spoke loudly at Bahl and gestured at him. Bahl was eventually sprayed with a chemical irritant, dragged out of his car and beaten. He was also jailed for three days and not given access to a TTY device or other means to communicate. Family and friends had no idea where he was.
A jury later convicted Bahl of misdemeanor obstructing legal process. He was acquitted of a more serious charge of obstructing legal process with force. He then sued the city in federal court, settling in May 2013 for $93,450 and for the St. Paul Police Department to make changes in how it communicates with deaf people in the future. One key step is ensuring that ASL interpreters will be available for those who need them.
In 2011, Bahl received a $230,000 settlement from Ramsey County, due to how he was treated while jailed. The county made a number of procedural changes to provide accommodations for people who are deaf, in addition to added training for jail staff. The settlement required the jail to have a videophone, text-only cell phones, teletypewriter for inmates, to have qualified sign-language interpreters available and guarantee their availability, without charge.
In a 1997 interview as part of an oral history project, Bahl discussed his life with interviewer Robert Cook. Bahl was born in west central Minnesota near Montevideo. His parents were farmers. When he was 2½ years old, he developed a high fever which was later found to be viral encephalitis. His father was working in the fields and his mother couldn’t drive, so he wasn’t taken to the doctor that day. Although he went to sleep and appeared to be fine the next day, Bahl became deaf overnight.
When he was almost five years old, Bahl was enrolled in the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf in Faribault. After graduation he attended and graduated from Gallaudet University. There he met his wife Sue, an Oklahoma native. The couple returned to Minnesota, where they raised two children. He taught ASL at Faribault from 1976 and also headed the drama department there. In 1990 he accepted a teaching job at what is now St. Paul College. He also held a master’s degree in deaf education from the University of Minnesota.
Bahl had many hobbies, including world travel to conference and historic sites for the deaf community. He also collected and restored antique furniture. One of his prized collections was postcards from different schools for the deaf.
Survivors include his wife; son Chris, daughter Kari, parents, four step-children, brothers and sisters, and his former wife, Ann Billington Cassell. Funeral arrangements are pending, with a memorial service planned for spring in Faribault.
Memorials can be directed to the Douglas D. Bahl Memorial Fund at the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf or Thompson Hall.
Emerging artists receive Jerome grants
Seven Minnesota artists, selected from a field of 45 candidates, have been awarded grants of $1,500 each by VSA Minnesota. The 18th annual competitive grant is funded by the Jerome Foundation. The grants are given to recognize excellence by emerging Minnesota artists with disabilities and encourage them to complete new work. Arts from Minneapolis are Caleb Belleveau, visual art – sculpture installation; Christi Furnas, visual art – painting; Mari Alice Newman, visual art – collage, acrylics; Leili Tajadod Pritschet, visual art – painting and Anne Sawyer-Aitch, performance art-puppetry. Other grant recipients are Wendy Lee Savage, a millinery/multi-media artist from Duluth and Coon Rapids resident Jill Lynne Ness, multi-media – creative non-fiction, poetry, images. A jurying process, conducted by peopled with extensive arts backgrounds, was used to select the winners. Samples of the artists’ work, resumes and artist statements were considered.
VSA Minnesota is a nonprofit organization working to make the arts accessible to people with all types of disabilities. A short biography about each artist will be available shortly on the VSA Minnesota website: www.vsamn.org
Flags fly for Can Do Canines
Flags are flying to recognize Can Do Canines’ 25 years of service to people with disabilities. On January 8, United States flags flew over both the United States and Minnesota capitol buildings in honor of the Can Do Canines and Alan M. Peters, the service dog training organization’s founder and executive director. The date was chosen because it is Peters’ birthday.
The flags will be presented to the organization at its anniversary celebration in May. The flags will then be used at future special events, including graduation ceremonies for service animals. Additional anniversary-centered events are planned throughout the year to spotlight the people and events that have helped Can Do Canines grow during the past 25 years.
State grant to help with training
A $200,000 state grant through Minnesota Southeast Technical is bringing an infusion of help to enhance ProAct’s training for staff members and people with disabilities, while improving the nonprofit’s production capabilities, as well.
The funds are from the Minnesota Job Skills Partnership Program and will impact about 140 ProAct employees over an 18-month period. Entry level training and retraining are to be emphasized.
ProAct President Steven Ditschler said one element in the new grant-funded curriculum is the first of its kind in the state, and possibly in the country. The funds will help with greater productivity and self-sufficiency, better value to business customers, increased wages and a higher level of professionalism.
The grant provides assistance in several areas, including: cutworks (AutoCAD), trained medication administration, special needs job coaching and team building, adapted Lean systems, electronic documentation and “Train the Trainer” in Lean, CPR and first aid. Lean manufacturing, lean enterprise, or lean production is a production practice that considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be wasteful, and thus a target for elimination.
The Job Skills Partnership is a part of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
Southeast Technical President Jim Johnson said the grant to ProAct is one of four that total about $800,000. It’s unusual for the school to administer four grants at once. “ProAct is a really exciting grant for us, especially the Lean training for client employees,” he said. The Lean system was first popularized by the world’s largest carmaker, Toyota, in its manufacturing.
The Job Skills Partnership has a long history in the state, Johnson said. Its goal is to leverage state, local and private resources to address the critical training needs of businesses in the region, Johnson said. The school has been given more than 30 business grants since the program started about 30 years ago. Southeast Technical Director of Business Relations Calli Ekblad was a leader in securing the grant funds. “We are committed to helping local employers develop a well-trained, skilled workforce,” she said.
Jim Bohmbach, production manager for ProAct in Red Wing, said Lean typically allows for greater efficiency by cutting unneeded steps. He and a key production staff member had received some Lean training at Red Wing Shoe Company. Much of the training will benefit ProAct’s Red Wing location, but Eagan employees will also be involved, explains Red Wing Director of Programs and Services Sally Ogren. She is particularly interested in improving the location’s financial performance.
ProAct’s major business partners have also shown an interest in potential efficiency improvements for enclave work crews, she said. The training intends to make ProAct’s consumers with disabilities more employable, which meshes well with the nonprofit’s overall mission. The program also benefits the college by creating business partnerships which help the school to more effectively build its curriculum and increase its value as an education and training institution, said Johnson.
ProAct is headquartered in Eagan and has additional operations in Red Wing, Zumbrota and in Hudson, Wis. Its mission is to serve individuals experiencing barriers to employment and self-sufficiency due to intellectual and developmental disabilities, physical disabilities, mental health issues, traumatic brain injuries, and other challenges.
Accessible playground project issues fundraising challenge
A Shoreview elementary school is moving closer toward its goal of a fully accessible playground. The Shoreview Community Foundation is providing a challenge grant to the Turtle Lake Elementary: A Playground for Everyone Campaign.
The foundation will match, one to one, any new money from individual Shoreview residents toward the project up to $5,000.00. Donations must be made between February 1 and April 1.
“The Turtle Lake Playground for Everyone will enrich our whole community for healthy recreation in an inclusive environment. We are pleased that these funds, donated by residents and businesses, will help move the project to completion and encourage members of the Shoreview community to support the campaign,” said Shoreview Community Foundation Vice Chairman Kent Peterson.
As of January 24, the Turtle Lake Elementary Playground Committee had $115,709 toward the campaign goal to raise $280,000 by April 1. With only two months remaining to reach their goal, every gift will bring the volunteers closer to completing the campaign and allow an inclusive playground to be built.
For more information, visit http://turtlelakeplay ground.weebly.com. Checks can be made out the Turtle Lake Elementary PTA (memo: Playground) and mailed to Turtle Lake Elementary PTA, 1141 Lepak Ct., Shoreview, MN 55126.