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Financial prosperity, program growth and a major merger

Janet Venable successded Paul Krouse as CHS executive director in 1981 and the decade sparked new growth for the organization. By fiscal year 1988, the total expenses from the beginning of the decade had more than tripled.

In 1980, CHS offered deaf individuals assistance in the preparation of their income tax forms. During that first year, volunteer sign language interpreters and income tax preparers were originally scheduled to be on hand for one day. Their services were in such demand, however, that three additional half-day sessions were arranged. Today, the program remains popular.

Also in 1980, the Board of Directors approved a resolution establishing the Marion Goldman Award for Exceptional Volunteer Service. The award was named as a tribute to Mrs. Goldman, who served on the CHS Board from 1948 to 1980.

During this time, many members of the deaf community became acquainted with CHS through the Interpreter Referral Service. This led to increased advocacy activity from staff members on behalf of CHS's deaf customers. 

In 1981, CHS established an ongoing relationship with the Chicago Park District to offer Camp Sign, a six-week summer day camp program for deaf and hard of hearing youngsters. This relationship would continue until 2000.

After moving to 10 West Jackson Boulevard in 1983, CHS opened the Charles A. Silberman Center for Assistive Devices. The Silberman Center was established to provide people with the opportunity to see various assistive devices and learn how they operate. Mr. Silberman had been an active member of the CHS Board of Directors for many years. The Silberman Center has evolved into as online service reaching people throughout the United States.

Richard Gelula was named CHS executive director in 1984; he was succeeded by Pamela Ransom in 1985.

The next few years were a time of advocacy and legislative activity. CHS was instrumental in the formation of the Illinois Alliance for the Hearing Impaired, and took the lead in advocating for several key pieces of legislation, including:

  • Measures which assure language credit for American Sign Language in Illinois schools
  • TTY access to 911 emergency services
  • Establishing relay services long before it would be mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act

In 1987, CHS hosted the first of several Celia Warshawsky Leadership conferences, named in honor of the CHS volunteer and community activist. The purpose of the conferences was to acquaint deaf people with the legislative process and empower them to become self-advocates.

The CHS Women's Board is reactivated in 1989 and gives the agency a much welcomed boost to fund raising efforts.

As the 1980s began, the focus of CHS's hearing and vision testing programs became private day care sites, assisted by funding from the Illinois Department of Public Health. By the end of the decade, the focus shifted and CHS began providing screening services for preschoolers in Chicago Head Start sites.

Fiscal year 1989 is the first time the CHS operating budget tops $1 million.

The nineties began with a move to 332 South Michigan Avenue and CHS begins offering first-run open-captioned movies in a theatre setting. Drawing an audience of 200 to 300 people, CHS hosted monthly screenings until 1999 when open-captioned movies are shown in general release in theaters nationwide.

CHS established the Adult Role Models in Education of the Deaf (A.R.M.E.D.) program in 1991. The program is the brainchild of attorney Howard Rosenblum, who, while visiting his junior high school a few years earlier, met a deaf student who had difficulty believing that he was deaf. When Mr. Rosenblum realized the girl had never met a deaf adult before, he committed himself to assuring that deaf youngsters have the opportunity to meet and learn from deaf adults. Susan Kidder was named CHS's Executive Director in 1991; she was followed by Jill Sahakian in 1995.

CHS held the first of three annual Communication Access 2000 conferences in 1992. The conferences addressed such topics as the Americans with Disabilities Act and technology and educational issues. In 1994, CHS became a TTY distribution site for the program sponsored by the Illinois Telecommunications Access Corporation. With staff fluent in American Sign Language and Spanish, CHS became one of the busier distribution sites in Illinois.

In 1995, private day care services were extended to Head Start sites in the suburbs. The Pre-School Screening program served 10,000 to 12,000 children annually until it closed in 2001 and the Chicago Department of Public Health assumed primary responsibility for screening.

Children's Hearing Screening

From 1983 to 2001, Chicago Hearing Society's
Screening and Outreach Program provided
hearing and vision screening for thousands
of children annually in day care centers
and Head Start sites.

In a major milestone, on July 1, 1997, CHS merged with Anixter Center, a nonprofit human services agency that assists people with disabilities to live and work in the community. The merger is the successful result of shared philosophical, economic and organizational goals.

“We believe our merger with Anixter Center will enable Chicago Hearing Society to grow and to offer more comprehensive service to the community than would have been possible had we continued to operate on our own,” said Karen Kizer, president of the CHS board. At the time of the merger, the CHS annual operating budget is $1.3 million.

Digital hearing aids are offered by CHS for the first time in 1997. Hailed as one of the ten greatest medical advances of 1996, the hearing aids contain a computer chip that can be programmed to meet the needs of the wearer. 

In 1998, CHS established a victim assistance program for deaf and hard of hearing victims of crime. A full-time counselor, fluent in sign language, is available to assist victims in filing police reports, advocating for interpreters or other communication access, accompanying victims to court, and filing for any compensation to which they may be entitled. Also in 1998, most CHS programs move into an office at Anixter Center's 2001 North Clybourn Avenue office. The following year, the remaining programs moved to the same location.

The first leadership workshop for deaf and hard of hearing high school students is offered in 1999 and is co-sponsored by CHS and the Midwest Center for Postsecondary Outreach Site at Harper College. The day-long event focuses on empowerment and team-building to help prepare the students for life after high school.

Next: CHS in the new millenium



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