From last Thursday, the Orlando Sentinel’s Jeff Kunerth on an unexpected casualty from the advent of text-message mania. (link courtesy Textually)

Throughout the nation, deaf clubs are on the decline. The younger deaf are eschewing the deaf clubs of their parents for the Internet, text-messaging and e-mail.

“There is a big fear we are going to lose deaf culture because of technology,” said Rosanne Trapani, coordinator of Deaf & Hard of Hearing Services at Valencia Community College.

Those who consider themselves part of the deaf culture use American Sign Language as their primary means of communication. Based on national studies of the deaf who are proficient in sign language, the deaf community in Florida is estimated at 38,400 people.

About a fifth of those — 7,300 — live in Central Florida.

But at the Orlando Club for the Deaf, which has been around since 1949, membership numbers less than 30.

At a recent gathering, middle-aged and elderly deaf members sat at long tables, eating egg-salad sandwiches and playing bingo. A strobe light signaled the winner.

Efforts to expand the club’s membership have been futile.

“We tried for the last three years to pull the youth in here, but when they see the old people, it’s not their thing. They can’t relate,” said club historian Tim Wata, a 50-year-old Lockheed Martin engineer.

Schooley blames it on technology. Televisions come with closed-caption devices. Hollywood movies can be ordered with “open caption” subtitles. There is e-mail and Internet chat rooms for the deaf. A hand-held text-messaging device is growing in popularity. And a new system called video relay allows a deaf person to communicate visually with another deaf person or interpreter through a TV set.

“Most of them stay home — just like the hearing people,” said Schooley, 70, who worked in graphic arts.