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The City Journals

Sanderson Community Center of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing welcomes new director

May 08, 2018 12:26PM ● By Carl Fauver

New Sanderson Community Center Director Dan Mathis is an American Sign Language specialist. (Carl Fauver/City Journals)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]

The Utah Department of Workforce Services Office of Rehabilitation has named sign language specialist Dan Mathis its new director of Taylorsville’s Robert G. Sanderson Community Center of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Mathis replaces former director Marilyn Call, who announced her retirement last fall, about the same time the center — located southeast of Walmart in Taylorsville (5709 South 1500 West) — was celebrating its 25th anniversary.

“This center is the Mecca for the Utah deaf community,” the sign language interpreter for Mathis said. “I grew up in the Utah deaf community and have been familiar with the great services the center provides for many years. I’ve also known most of the people here for a long time. So now it’s nice to get to learn more about all of their skills.” 

Mathis was born deaf and was also around two deaf grandparents for much of his young life. The Syracuse resident and father of four graduated from Hillcrest High School in 1989, before education, work and a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints took him across the country.

“Right out of high school, I attended Salt Lake Community College for about a year and a half,” Mathis said. “I began serving my mission in Philadelphia in July 1991.”

Because he was adept at sign language, Mathis served an unusual American Sign Language mission. He said that calling took him from Philadelphia, to New York City and on to Indianapolis, all in just two years.

By 1998, Mathis was earning a pair Bachelor of Arts degrees — in American Sign Language and Deaf Studies — from Gallaudet University, a private school for the deaf and hard of hearing in Washington, D.C. Several years later he earned a master’s degree there as well.  

Mathis also found time to play baseball for the university, after also doing so at Hillcrest.

“Sports was my way to socialize in high school,” Mathis said. “But otherwise, school was pretty lonely. I attended mainstream classes from a young age, with the school district providing sign language interpreters. But my friends never really wanted to learn sign language — except for the ‘dirty’ signs. So I ate lunch alone quite a bit.”

Those experiences at a young age taught Mathis the importance of providing the deaf and hard of hearing with as many opportunities as possible to work and socialize with one another. He promises to make that a point of emphasis at the Sanderson Community Center.

“I’m interested in continuing what we are doing (at the Sanderson Center) while also working to get younger children more involved,” Mathis said. “I want to provide even more in the way of vocational training and employment specialists who can help place our people into good jobs.”

Mathis said in the nearly 30 years since he graduated from high school, there hasn’t been much improvement in the mainstream public education provided to hard of hearing students. He believes more deaf children and their parents, whether hearing or not, need to make learning sign language a higher priority.

However, Mathis said he has observed two big areas of improvement for the deaf and hard of hearing over those same three decades.

“First, there is much better awareness about the deaf community now, so there is less stigma about it,” he said. “And second, new technology to aid the hard of hearing is tremendous. Phones that provide captioning (of what is being spoken at the other end), for instance, are very helpful.” 

Nationwide, a full 20 percent of people suffer at least some hearing challenges. In Utah, according to the 2010 U.S. census, 4,000 people are completely deaf. 

The Sanderson Community Center features 71,000 square feet of meeting and conference room space, lecture halls, a large basketball and multipurpose area and several other amenities. Its Taylorsville campus is a spacious 6 acres. The site employs about 25 full--time and 50 part-time people. It also coordinates activities for its only satellite location in St. George.

The center operates on an annual budget of about $3 million, with some 1,400 different people visiting the multipurpose site at least once a year.    

Prior to this new position, Mathis served as an American Sign Language specialist for the Jean Massieu School of the Deaf, as part of the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind.