Farb family attends inaugural ball

(Editor’s note: Nathan Farb lives in Jay.)

WASHINGTON – Friday night I went to the second Power and Pride Disability inaugural ball at the National Press Club with my daughter Esme Farb and a few friends.

Four years ago I accompanied Esme, a guy who was crushed out on her, and a couple of other friends to the first Power and Pride Disability Ball. That had been a spectacular first, and the place was awash in joy and pride.

Esme got a good volunteer job at the ball, greeting people and giving them the party program. I took my camera out and went into the main room to check out the scene. There I spotted a deaf-blind man whom I have always wanted to talk to. I have seen him many times at Gallaudet University, which is dedicated to higher education for the deaf.

The deaf-blind have sign language interpreters make the signs directly into their hands to communicate. When you see it, it is very apparent and fascinating, but I have always been a bit shy and intimidated to try to communicate with a deaf-blind person. Once I introduced myself, Steven A. Frank told me he had been a librarian at Gallaudet for 30 years.

After a few moments of chit-chat through the sign language interpreters, I thought about the twin deaf-blind brothers who had chosen assisted suicide in Belgium last week, and I was curious about what his take on that news story had been.

Was it just too painful to live with such limited communication and social interaction with the world? Or was the way social services and the medical community set up just plain inadequate to meet the needs of this group of people, and the easiest way to deal with this population encourage people to seek assisted suicide? Big questions. I have always been a supporter of assisted suicide, but seeing how a large segment of the disability community has been very much against assisted suicide has made me question some of my long-held beliefs.

In any case I thought it would be great to put him together with Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, who I knew was at the event, and let them have a discussion.

Harkin had a deaf brother who, according to a conversation he had with Esme, is now dead. Tom Harkin has always been one the most compassionate liberals in the Senate and a leading supporter of the disability community. Harkin’s speech on the Senate floor just prior to the tax compromise at the beginning of this year can be listened to on the PBS archives.

Steven Frank was definitely up for the meeting, so Frank, three sign language interpreters and I set out to find Harkin on the crowded floor of the Power and Pride Disability Ball. Once I found him, I was able to guide Sen. Harkin to a portion of the room with some light so I could photograph the two of them and record the discussion.

They were thrilled to meet each other, but alas, Harkin was being rushed out to the Iowa inaugural party, so the two leaders agreed to a further communication about the issue.