The History of HSDC

From its roots back to a Lip Reading Club and a Deaf Women’s sewing circle to opening satellite offices in Tacoma and Bellingham and two preschools at it’s Seattle office, HSDC has grown and changed as much as the communities it serves. With nearly 80 years of Building Community, we’d like to know your story. How has HSDC touched the lives of you and your family? Please email us (at or via the contact page) to share your quotes, your memories, or photos.

Thank you for being a part of HSDC. We look forward to a long and rewarding partnership.

“The services provided over seven decades have been nothing short of a life-line for those of us who struggle to communicate, giving us a multitude of ways to function, to participate, in a very, very verbal world.”

Jane Carlson Williams

Recent History

Since moving into an all-new facility, the Artz Communication Center, HSDC has undergone a phase of prosperous growth. A vital new program, Deaf & Hard of Hearing Services,was launched to provide a variety of important community services, including client advocacy, ADA resources, and videophone access, a technology that has rapidly replaced the TTY as a communication mode. To reach as many individuals as possible, the agency opened two additional offices, first in Bellingham and then in Tacoma. HSDC’s Deaf & Hard of Hearing Services now reach individuals in thirteen counties across Western Washington through partnerships with the state Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the City of Seattle, and United Way of King County.

Building on decades of success in the Parent-Infant Program (PIP), HSDC developed an expanded Preschool & Early Learning model, to include PIP as well as the Ned Behnke Speech Language Preschool and Rosen Family Preschool. Responding to an increased demand for early childhood learning opportunities and with a long-term focus on children with disabilities, HSDC is taking the next step in ensuring a successful school experience for children facing communication challenges.

HSDC has held many events over the years, as both fundraisers and an opportunity to reach out to constituents and celebrate achievements. Keynote speakers have included Phil Smart in 2005, and Karen Bryant, COO of the Seattle Storm, in 2006. For its 70th Anniversary breakfast in 2007, HSDC was delighted to welcome William H. Gates Sr., Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2008, the keynote speaker was Dr. Patricia Kuhl, Co-Director of the University of Washington Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences; in 2009, Joseph J. Cozzo, President/CEO of Buffalo Hearing & Speech Center; and in 2010, Dr. Bette Hyde, Director of the Department of Early Learning (DEL).

Full History

In 1929, a group of women who were hard of hearing formed the Seattle Lip Reading Club, meeting weekly for social occasions and lipreading classes. Deaf and hard of hearing people faced enormous social isolation in the early part of the century, far greater than what their contemporaries face, and the Lip Reading Club provided an important opportunity to gather as friends and allies. At approximately the same time, several mothers of deaf children formed the (Seattle area) Child Hearing League, and established a preschool for deaf youngsters which stressed oral language skills. By 1937, the Child Hearing League and the Lip Reading Club formed a partnership to create the Seattle Chapter for the Hard of Hearing, which would undergo several name changes before becoming the Seattle Hearing and Speech Center in 1953. Until well into the mid-1960s, the Seattle Hearing and Speech Center (later becoming the Hearing, Speech & Deafness Center) would be the only nonprofit, independent program west of the Mississippi for children and adults facing communication challenges.

In the late 1940s, the Center purchased a house on 10th Avenue in the Capitol Hill neighborhood to house its growing clinical services. The Center established an immediate and enduring commitment to provide services regardless of a client’s ability to pay. With parents sometimes able to provide only $20 per month, the Center relied on United Good Neighbor support (later to become United Way) and donations in order to operate its oral language preschool, speech therapy, and audiology programs. By this time, the Lip Reading Club had become the Seattle Sewing Guild, which met every Tuesday at the Center to hand-sew and sell quilts to help support the Center’s programs. The Seattle Sewing Guild continued to meet until well into the 1960s, when age and infirmity forced the surviving members to disband. The Center’s Executive Director, Frederick (Jack) Artz served in that position from 1951 to 1956 and laid the groundwork for most of what followed.

In 1957, when the Seattle Hearing and Speech Center’s annual budget was only $35,000, a new Executive Director, Clyde Mott, embarked on a remarkable, 25-year period of program expansion, land aggregation, and fiscal stability. In late 1963, the 10th Avenue house was sold for $25,000 and a down payment was placed on the $100,000 Madison Street Hospital, a private osteopathic hospital. Within one year, the Board of Directors had finished its private fundraising efforts, and the remaining $75,000 was paid. The Center established permanent ownership of its property without any outstanding debt and created yet another enduring tradition. From then on, whenever the Center purchased property, it would do so without creating debt or financial drain on the organization’s programs and operating funds. Instead, the Center’s properties would benefit its financial and programmatic permanence.

While a significant improvement over the 10th Avenue house, the new Center still required massive remodeling. The former laboratory had to be redesigned for the Audiology Program, the hospital’s operating room needed to become a conference room, and the small hospital rooms needed to become administrative and clinical offices. The United Good Neighbors (United Way) donated special funds, The Boeing Company contributed $10,000, and another $35,000 came from the D.V. & Ida McEachern Charitable Foundation. Remodeling occurred in a step-by-step process after money had been raised so that no debts or loans were incurred. The Center continued directing the bulk of its private fundraising towards keeping its programs open to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay.

Throughout the 1960s, whenever a contiguous property was placed on the market, the Center acquired it, relying almost exclusively on the fundraising capacity of its Board. In time, properties totaling 1.75 acres along Madison Street were acquired, each ranging in price from $35,000 to $75,000. One property was eventually leased to a local television station, creating a revenue source for programs.

In the 1970s, the Center received Washington State Referendum 37 funds to finance construction of a new building. This expanded facility space, together with the Johnson Administration’s Great Society anti-poverty programs, allowed the Center to create new and innovative programs and, for the first time, actively involve the Deaf Community in the Center. Like other hearing and speech programs during the 1930s to 1960s era, the Center focused exclusively on an oral language program for deaf children and adults. The prevailing treatment model was that every deaf child could be taught to speak and communicate like his or her hearing peers. However, while a few deaf children could be taught to speak, most could not. For them, sign language was the only viable alternative, but sign language was considered anathema within the treatment (and often the mainstream) community. Enormous tension developed between the Deaf Community’s sign language advocates and those treatment providers promoting oral language skills. Seattle’s Deaf Community, one of the largest in the region, had no involvement with the Seattle Hearing and Speech Center.

To resolve this breach, and over enormous clinical and community opposition, the Center introduced the Total Communication Program, a combination of oral and sign language training. Over time, more and more Deaf people became involved in the Center, and both clinicians and community supporters saw the value of a flexible and open treatment model. Other Deaf programs followed. With the active support of the Johnson Administration, the Center helped establish the region’s only deaf student community college program through Seattle Community College. The program remains a stellar model for integrating deaf students into academic and vocational classes. The Center also created Independent Living Skills (ILS), a residential, rehabilitative program for deaf adults based in the Referendum Building 37. The Center recruited deaf adults by going to the state’s institutions for the mentally disabled, where many deaf adults were living due to early (and persistent) misdiagnosis. At the ILS program, an onsite residence supervisor taught the deaf participants cooking, cleaning, banking, hygiene and other basic life skills, while the Center clinicians provided hearing and vocational testing and sign language training.

By the 1970s, the Rehabilitation Program had expanded into the Center’s first job training program, for many years funded by Federal projects with industry grants. It eventually evolved into TAPP: the Training, Assessment and Placement Program. The Boeing Company was an early supporter of TAPP, and allowed the Center to train its management staff in supervising employees who were deaf or facing communication challenges. This partnership continued for more than 20 years, with The Boeing Company providing volunteer leadership and other support to TAPP. Julia Winn was the Executive Director in the early 80s, having succeeded Clyde Mott. The Center also purchased two mobile units to conduct on-the-job audiology tests, but this pilot project did not prove to be financially feasible as more companies provided their own services.

In the mid-1980s, the Deaf Community was so integrated into the Center that the name was changed to the Hearing, Speech & Deafness Center (HSDC). Among the many new services added by Executive Director Edward Freedman was The Store@HSDC, created in 1988 as the region’s (and possibly the nation’s) first nonprofit store for purchasing a comprehensive range of assistive signaling, communication and listening devices.

Traditionally, the Center had only performed audiology evaluations, and then referred clients to commercial dispensers for hearing aid purchases. As the Center’s clientele grew, it found itself repeatedly being offered unethical business practices from these for-profit retailers (such as a hearing aid company offering a monetary “kick-back” every time a Center client was referred to that particular company). To ensure that all clients received ethical services in the fitting and purchasing of hearing aids, which were tailored to a client’s hearing loss and financial circumstances, HSDC began dispensing hearing aids. Outraged by a potential loss of business, several hearing aid retailers and manufacturers sued HSDC, but the case was thrown out of Court, and the Center was free to continue its practice. Concurrently, another important tradition was taking root, as HSDC began working with other hearing and speech programs throughout the nation, to share best practices and build partnerships.

At this point, space constraints had forced HSDC to spread its services among the Madison Street main facility, a loaned, prefabricated trailer, and the Referendum 37 building, thereby fragmenting services that require careful integration. Further, the main building, the former Madison Street Hospital, was showing its limitations. Cramped, inadequately soundproofed (critical for our diagnostic and therapeutic services), and built long before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards were created, the building could be made suitable for other organizations but not HSDC’s client population, which included a growing number of deafblind and disabled clients. (A 1987 program of providing ramp access into and within the building provided some relief but would never be a permanent solution.) Most of all, the building lacked the flexibility to grow, and could not be expanded to include the play areas, observation rooms and family oriented spaces vital to the Center’s work.

In 1993, The Collins Group, Inc. conducted a capital campaign feasibility study that found strong community support for a new, fully-integrated building for the Hearing, Speech & Deafness Center. Still, a full-fledged capital campaign seemed beyond the resources of a small organization, and conversations with real estate developers centered largely on the Center selling its property, having a developer build the new facility, and then making annual rent payments. This strategy was in stark opposition to Center’s long history of site ownership, and the fiscal and programmatic stability it fostered.

In 1995, HSDC’s Board of Directors began developing a strategic plan to guide the Center in better reaching the thousands of Western Washington families in need of the services provided. A comprehensive evaluation of the Center’s current and potential client base, together with a review of the programs and referral sources, pointed to a major need for expanding its community presence. While the programs were strong and trusted, the Board and community supporters agreed that the Center’s major weakness lay in its main building and three annexes. In 1999, the Board completed a new strategic plan with goals to: increase awareness of who the Center is, what it does, and where it is located; diversify and increase the funding base; and build a new facility without incurring debt.

HSDC began a partnership with a local developer, Shelter Resources, Inc. to build a mixed-use project incorporating both a new 30,000 square foot Center and 96 units of affordable housing. Susie Burdick joined HSDC to run the  capital campaign which began in 2000 for $2.5 million for tenant improvements in the planned facility. Ground was broken for the project on July 31, 2001 with Washington State First Lady Mona Lee Locke and Capital Campaign Chair Mike James presiding. Over the next two years, fundraising continued successfully with support from several major donors and foundations, and a substantial contribution of $1 million from former Executive Director Jack Artz and his wife Jane. HSDC’s new facility was named the “Artz Communication Center, Home of the Hearing, Speech & Deafness Center,” in their honor.

In 2002, Susie Burdick became HSDC’s Chief Executive Officer, and the agency moved into its new space in March of 2003. Arrival in the new facility marked the beginning of a new era for the Hearing, Speech & Deafness Center. The official grand opening was held on May 15, 2003. Attended by over a hundred friends, donors, relatives and officials, the ceremony was highlighted by speeches from board member and Capital Campaign Chair Mike James, and Amanda Beers, Miss Washington. The emotional evening was punctuated with kudos for past Executive Directors Jack Artz, Clyde Mott, and Ed Freedman, and praise for the current leadership and staff.

The custom, state-of-the-art facility, along with a generous donation of over $250,000 in furnishings from Sierra Online, a local high tech company, has allowed HSDC to consolidate all of its programs under one roof, with ample room to grow. The new building also features a 1,600 square foot meeting facility dedicated to serving the nonprofit, corporate, and private sectors on a sliding fee scale. With capacity for up to a hundred guests, the Hannah S. Grunbaum Conference Center has a dedicated catering kitchen, amenities such as staging, a podium, and a full complement of audio/visual equipment.

In 2014, Lindsay Klarman was named Executive Director, and during her time at HSDC she has worked to better integrate the Deaf community into the agency’s services.  She reestablished Rosen Family Preschool, a bilingual program for young children with hearing loss, and has increased the number of Deaf and hard of hearing people on the staff and board. In February 2016, HSDC announced a subtle, but significant change: removing the suffix, “-ness” on “Deafness”. “Deafness” represents a medical term, while “Deaf” represents  a community. To better reflect our commitment to the Deaf community of Western Washington, HSDC is now known as Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center.

The future of Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center holds much promise. HSDC’s Board of Directors approved a new five-year strategic plan in September 2016, providing a pathway for even more growth, inclusivity, and advocacy in support of Puget Sound residents with communication challenges. An energized staff and involved, supportive board members are all helping HSDC to fulfill its mission every day.