By Stephen M. Silverman
April 12, 2002 10:57 AM

Amid the cherry blossoms on the grounds of the F.D.R. Memorial in Washington, D.C., Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin and former Senator Bob Dole joined forces Wednesday to support a nationwide campaign that raises funds for Easter Seals and the National Organization on Disability, reports PEOPLE. Sprint Project Connect collects old wireless phones, refurbishes and resells them, and then donates the proceeds to the two charities. Matlin, 36, who became deaf at the age of 18 months from a childhood disease, stepped up to the podium and pushed the microphone away. Using sign language, she said through an interpreter, “I don’t need this!” Matlin, the official spokesperson for Sprint Project Connect, described her upbringing as being a normal child with a “Brady Bunch”-like family whose members never felt her deafness held her back. “The only thing I couldn’t do was hear,” she said before encouraging the crowd to help people with disabilities to live fuller and richer lives by donating their old wireless phones. (Matlin, whose third baby is due in July, is on hiatus from her role as Joey Lucas on NBC’s “The West Wing.” She also told PEOPLE that she has written her first book, due out in October and titled “Deaf Child Crossing.”) Dole, 65, an outspoken advocate for the disabled, brought an old phone to put in the collection box. “It’s the phone I used in ’96. Apparently, it didn’t get the right number in ’96, so I’m happy to throw it away,” Dole joked to the amused crowd, referring to his 1996 presidential bid that he lost to Bill Clinton. “But it’s had a lot of use, we made a lot of calls, but a lot of people hung up.”