Matt Ouderkirk and Carolyn Finney are Pelham residents and GNAD members. SUPPLIED

A regional organization wants the public to open its eyes — and ears — to the needs of the deaf and hearing impaired.

Carolyn Finney, a teacher of applied linguistics at Brock for some two decades, is the president of the Niagara Association of the Deaf (GNAD). She lives in Fonthill with her partner, Matt Ouderkirk, who is the group’s vice president. Finney was born in Cape Breton, but has lived some two decades years in Niagara, where she met Ouderkirk, a Niagara Falls native. They have been together for four years.

Ouderkirk, who has a factory job at Niagara Castings in St. Catharines, is hearing impaired, but not fully deaf. He was born with ear problems, and had reconstructive surgery on his right ear.

Finney’s mother contracted Rubella (German Measles) when she was six months pregnant, which was the catalyst for Finney’s total hearing loss.

Both Ouderkirk and Finney are proficient in sign language and lip-reading.

“GNAD was created with the purpose of socially connecting those with deafness and hearing deficits,” said Finney. “The Covid-19 pandemic has been especially hard on the hearing disabled, increasing their sense of isolation. We hope our Christmas dinner and dance on November 19 will bring together the community of those with hearing issues, and their families.”

GNAD hopes to provide regular opportunities to gather and unite through activities such as bowling, skating, theme parties, coffee klatches, and other social occasions.

Supports are limited for those with hearing impairments in Niagara, with the nearest Canadian Hearing Society office is in Hamilton.

“We want to focus on awareness issues,” said Ouderkirk. “Most individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing have limited resources, and find it difficult to meet others. GNAD is about uniting the deaf, to bring them a sense of confidence and belonging.”

The Christmas dinner and dance will be held on Saturday, November 19, in the grand hall of the Double Tree Fallsview Resort and Spa, located at 6039 Fallsview Boulevard in Niagara Falls.

Doors open at 4 PM, with dinner and dancing from 6 PM until 1 AM.

Tickets are $80, and are available by emailing [email protected]

More information about the Greater Niagara Association of the Deaf can obtained at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100065701743241