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Parents Don’t Hear Deaf Girl’s Plea For Communication

A deaf teenager who says her parents refuse to learn sign language pleaded with a judge Wednesday to let her live permanently with her interpreter. Her father said he could “stomp my foot and point” to communicate or write letters.

Sonya Kinney, 15, said in an interview that the most frustrating moment came two years ago when she tried to tell her mother she had been abused by her stepfather.

“She didn’t understand me. I told her, but she didn’t understand me,” Sonya said in sign language. Instead, she said, she told her interpreter, Joanie Hughes.

Hughes is seeking permanent custody of Sonya, whose parents are divorced. No charges were filed against the stepfather, who died recently.

The hearing is to continue today. Sonya, her father, her interpreter and others testified Wednesday.

Sonya began living with her father, Norman Kinney, in January after telling social workers of the abuse. A month later, her father agreed to let her move in with Hughes. Then he changed his mind, and the legal fight began.

Kinney acknowledged in court Wednesday that he hasn’t learned sign language but said he is able to communicate with his daughter.

“I always done the best I could. I could stomp my foot and point to something. I admit when she was younger, I had a hard time communicating with her,” Kinney testified during the afternoon. He wrote letters as she grew older, he said.

If there was a major problem, “I would go to the school and have the interpreter tell me what was bothering her,” Kinney said.

Outside court, Sonya threatened to run away if the court makes her live with her father.

“If I have to live with my dad, I’m alone all the time,” the girl said as Hughes, an interpreter for the New Hanover County school system, translated.

During the hearing, a court-hired signlanguage interpreter translated everything said in the courtroom for Sonya, as well as her testimony from the witness stand.

Sonya said she asked her mother, Christyne Kinney Estes, “about 20 times” to learn sign language, and “she ignored me.” Estes did not attend the hearing.

Kinney’s attorney, John Burns, argued that Sonya’s skill at sign language showed that her parents were trying to help her by letting her spend so much time with Hughes.

Hughes told District Judge Shelly Holt that Kinney has a history of neglecting his children and is in trouble with the law. Sonya has said that she is afraid of her father’s drinking.

Kinney admitted during cross-examination that he has a drinking problem and has been to two treatment centers but never has completed treatment.

“I promised a thousand times I would quit,” he said. “I broke a thousand promises.”