New Sign Language bike racks coming soon to downtown Fargo aim to unify, educate

By Kim Hyatt, West Fargo Pioneer

FARGO — A new functional art feature will soon be installed downtown that members of the Deaf community here hope can educate and create a greater sense of unity in Fargo.

Local artist Jeff Knight, right, holds the “O” in the sign language bike racks he helped design that will soon go up on Broadway.

In honor of annual Deaf Awareness Week the last full week of September, a bike rack that spells out F-A-R-G-O in Sign Language will be placed in front of the former Metro Drug on Broadway sometime next month.

“It’s a good start as far as exposure goes,” said Michele Rolelwitz, president of the North Dakota Association of the Deaf. “It’s about unity and everybody being connected.”

Local artist Jeff Knight said he successfully applied for a public art grant from the city of Fargo in 2014 and solicited ideas from residents on creative bike racks. He said the project brings more awareness “to a part of our community that doesn’t always get much publicity.”

“Hopefully if one passes by these works, they may pick up on how to do a basic signing of the city they are in,” he said.

The design was shared with Betty Homme, a welder at CSN Welding in Horace, N.D., who constructed the bike racks. Knight said there is not an exact date for installation, but they hope to have the bike rack downtown in October.

Rolelwitz, 56, said in a phone interview using an interpreter through video relay service that the project is “awesome.” She encourages people to use the functional art to expand awareness on some Deaf services available, such as video relay. She said apps like Skype and Facetime make communicating more efficient and effective.

Chris Peterson, 35, of Mapleton, N.D., said there is still room for improving communication.

“It’s not that Deaf people are less capable than hearing people,” Peterson said. “We can do anything.”

The biggest challenge, Peterson said, is in interpreting and making sure those services are available. As a Deaf resident in a rural community, if he needs to go to the emergency room at 2 a.m., an interpreter would likely be unavailable. He would have to rely on a friend to interpret for him.

“That can be a problem,” he said. “Unfortunately, North Dakota doesn’t have a huge budget for that kind of thing.”

Peterson said those who aren’t sure how to communicate with Deaf people can simply write notes or send text messages. People can learn more by attending monthly Deaf Night Out events in the metro and anyone, Deaf or of hearing, can attend.

“Deaf people in this community have large hearts and are very welcoming people,” he said. “I think that the bike rack was kind of unexpected and it gave a sense of inspiration and pride to the community. I think it energizes the Deaf community.”