Six-year-old Gabrielle couldn't wait to open the box. She smiled and signed excitedly to her foster mother, Sharon Seiber, that she wanted to open it _ now. "Why don't we wait till we get home," signed Mrs. Seiber. Gabrielle sat down, clearly not happy with the decision.
The object of Gabrielle's excitement was a closed-caption decoder, a device that works with the television to translate speech into captions on the screen.
She was one of 16 hearing-impaired pupils from area schools to receive the machines Friday from the District 35 R Lions Club at the "Captions for Kids" program at the District Media Center in Lecanto.
Ann-Marie Orlando, an audiologist for the school system, explained that the decoders open a new world to hearing-impaired youngsters.
"Studies have shown students who have the decoders show an increased reading level," she said. "Without this device, people must sign for them. With it, they will be able to read for themselves."
Robert Belshe, 10, of Inverness has been using a decoder at home. His parents said it definitely improves his reading skills and makes watching television more enjoyable.
Robert's machine is one of those that will be donated to the school system, and he will get a new one. His father, Bill Belshe, said the new box will enable Robert to watch action movies and shows such as Bart Simpson because it is cable-ready.
"He liked the action movies but didn't understand what they were saying," he said.
Mrs. Seiber, director of Deaf Services for Citrus County, said the devices are beneficial to people all ages.
"Gabrielle is in kindergarten now, and as she learns to read next year this will be very valuable and help her along," she said.
"The decoders are opening new horizons for some of our older people who are returning to college, and by the time these kids reach that level, their vocabularies will be tremendous."
She pointed out that it sometimes is difficult for hearing-impaired people to follow the action in a program because seeing the mouths is important.
"When they (the actors) turn their heads or take a drink, you lose a lot," she said. "Game shows are especially difficult. This will enable them to play along."
Sara Randall, president of the Lion's Club District 35 R Hearing and Speech Foundation, said the presentations are the culmination of an effort begun last September to benefit a five-county area. The Lions have distributed more than 250 decoders in Citrus, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties.
"We started off with a $5,000 check from the National Captioning Institute and raised a total of $18,000, including a $5,000 check from Four L's in Lutz," she said. Lions clubs in the area collected the money through fund-raising events and bingo games.