The first DeafNation World Conference and Expo brought 23,400 visitors from 73 different countries, who communicated in a blend of native sign languages and International Sign Language at the Sands Expo and Convention Center from July 18 through 23. There were 302 booths representing sign language dictionaries, fashion lines, art, video relay services, deaf films, the U.S. State Department, the United Way, and more. There were 70 workshops offered during the week, covering topics like cultural exchanges, the future of deaf telephony, and environmentally conscious living.
One corner of the 2,000-square-foot hall was reserved for a World Deaf Darts Tournament, and there were also flag football and basketball games for the children and teenagers. Programming standouts included the kickoff at the Fremont Street Experience, which featured a canopy video created by DeafNation, and the Miss Deaf International pageant.
There was also a World Deaf Art Gallery with works by 20 international deaf artists and students and a Deaf Wax Museum with figures by renowned deaf wax sculptor Don Baer. A main stage hosted performances by deaf rapper Sean Forbes and the Finnish band Signmark, global keynote speakers, and a wedding. Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin, who is deaf, and deaf UFC fighter Matt Hamill signed autographs and took pictures with the crowd.
"We do 12 to 15 events a year all over the world, but they are usually one-day events," Joel Barish said through an interpreter. Barish and his brother Jed founded DeafNation and plan and execute all the expos. Both are deaf. "I travel all over the world to plan them, and everything is run 98 percent by us. It's overwhelming to our committee and volunteers. This is the first time we did a four-day event of activities and, after it wrapped, we hosted a golf classic at three different courses over three days. We chose Las Vegas because this was an international event and Vegas is a name known all over the world."
As to how Barish managed to get so many people to attend, he said that the DeafNation Web site, which advertised the event, is viewed by 7 million people per month. It took a year to plan the Vegas world expo, and Barish made four pre-event planning visits. All told, the expo brought approximately $30 million to the city.