In one community, silence equals death. Thousands of deaf Americans have never learned the details about HIV and AIDS, and their ignorance is killing them.

To anyone outside his special circle, the fate of a young Texan named James would have seemed as predictable as it was tragic. The Austin restaurant worker had developed the telltale red-and-purple lesions and had suffered night sweats, diarrhea and weight loss. Then came the inevitable coda; his doctor informed him that he had AIDS. In fact, his T-cell count was down from a normal range of 800 to 1,200 to a depressing 12.

But James, as he told his doctor, did not know what AIDS was. Nor did he know what HIV was, or for that matter a virus. He...

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