Tony Schiffiano consistently advocated for the deaf
When the National Association of the Deaf held its 1988 conference in Charleston, it could not have found a better point person than Tony Schiffiano, says his wife.
He worked with community leaders and merchants in advance, holding classes on how to interact with the deaf people who would be visiting the Holy City, Anne Schiffiano says.
“Talk normally. Don’t talk with your mouth wide open. If you want to get their attention, tap them on the shoulder,” she recalls him telling people.
“He took it as a personal goal to educate people on deafness whenever he could.”
Schiffiano, born March 30, 1951, died Aug. 23. He was president of the Lowcountry Chapter of South Carolina Association of the Deaf from the mid-1980s until 1993. He also was a printer, who worked as a pressman at the Medical University of South Carolina early in his career.
“One of his pet peeves was to be referred to as ‘deaf and dumb,’ ” his wife says. “Every time somebody said that, he would tell them: ‘I’m deaf, but certainly not dumb.’ ”
Yet, he did not want to be a hearing person.
“The only thing he was ever curious about was music,” she says. He established a group of deaf and hearing people called Musical Hands, which performed at community and church functions by using sign languages and recorded music.
Schiffiano describes her husband as having been a busy man. His work on behalf of people with a range of disabilities included work on a committee with Charleston Mayor Joe Riley in the mid-to-late 1980s, before there was an Americans With Disabilities Act.
When the couple moved from Charleston to Northern Virginia for her work, his generous nature led him to extend a hand to all who were less fortunate there as well, she says.
“He didn’t believe in throwing anything away because there was always someone less fortunate” who might be able to use it, Anne Schiffiano says. “He was on a first-name basis with the people who worked at the Salvation Army (in Virginia).” Monetary donations to charities were part of his monthly budget.
Tony Schiffiano’s sister, Angela Dorsey, is proud that her brother was not shy about “getting on his soapbox.
“He was an advocate for the underdog, anyone who was being discriminated against,” Dorsey says. One example, she recalls is the many letters he wrote to the media.
They include ones to local television stations after Hurricane Hugo.
He was upset that they had not used closed captioning for the hearing impaired, she says. Deaf persons had to depend on others to tell them what was happening.
In Tony Schiffiano’s early years, he attended South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind at Cedar Springs, near Spartanburg.
Tony Schiffiano had some speech but was hampered by his deafness, she says. He read lips very well.
He was an extrovert, very strong, independent, she says.
“Out of the five children in the family, he was the only one who graduated from college,” she says. He earned his bachelor’s degree at the National Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.
During summers, he would attend acting school in Connecticut, Dorsey says. He performed as a mime during Piccolo Spoleto in Marion Square for several years.
He never met a stranger, she says.
Schiffiano was a member of fishing clubs in South Carolina and Virginia, where he lived for two decades.
“He was very good at bass fishing. If he didn’t win, he would place. He preferred to catch and release the fish, but every now and then, he would bring one home to eat.
Tony Schiffiano was a loving brother, she says.
“He never contacted me by email or text that he did not sign it ‘ily’ for I love you,” Dorsey says. “He also gave me a sign for my name.”
He signed the letter “A” with his hand as he placed it over his heart, she says.
Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.