Deaf and hard of hearing students discuss nuances of their education

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Brian Massimino is passionate about education. In his third year of getting a teaching credential in deaf and hard of hearing education, he is seeking a master’s degree in special education.

“I love watching (students’) eyes light up once they understand a particularly difficult concept and they’re eager to learn more,” Massimino said in two interviews conducted via e-mail. “This single moment is what makes teaching worthwhile for me.”

Massimino is one of many deaf studies majors on campus who are educating themselves to work with the deaf and hard of hearing community. Massimino is also one of more than 200 deaf students enrolled at CSUN this semester.

“I am passionate about education for the deaf because as a deaf individual, I want to give deaf children the same educational opportunities I have had,” he said.

CSUN has the second largest deaf student community of any university in the nation, as well as one of the only deaf studies major programs.

But even in a campus well-equipped for deaf students, the lack of resources and communication is a constant issue deaf and hard of hearing students struggle with.

CSUN opened its entire curriculum to deaf and hard of hearing students in 1970 when it was San Fernando Valley College. From the beginning, services provided were free of charge and included interpreting, note-taking and tutoring. As the campus continued to expand, so did the deaf and hard of hearing community.

By 1972, the Center on Deafness was established as a place to house administrators involved in deaf programs on campus. Consequently, Campus Services for the deaf was also established as a sub unit to become a mediator for students and services.

In 1978, the center was renamed the National Center on Deafness, and by 1989 the Jeanne M. Chisholm Hall was built. The building is a major resource for the deaf community on campus. Deaf students access all types of services, such as counseling, tutoring and library services.

Kathy Lloyd is a graduate student in counseling, with a bachelor’s degree in deaf studies. She is also a student assistant at the NCOD. Lloyd is a hearing student, but has been immersed in the deaf community since she was 15. Her hard of hearing uncle taught her the American Sign Language alphabet.

“I was always fascinated by the language,” Lloyd said.

Lloyd had to wait until college to get involved with deaf studies, but is working her way to becoming a deaf and hard of hearing counselor.

Recently, Lloyd has been sub-interpreting for a sixth grader at a nearby charter middle school. It is a different experience for young deaf students who are in a hearing learning environment, she said.

“I don’t think it’s fair for (the student) because he always has an adult watching over him, while other students don’t,” Lloyd said.

Interpreters provide the opportunity for equal access to a public education, yet at the same time they widen the divide between the deaf student and the rest of the class, Lloyd said.

The interpreter becomes a constant third person involved in the deaf student’s communication and education process – a vital and integral part.

“ASL is a visual language,” Massimino said. “One just needs to know how to facilitate that language to educate deaf children.”

Sometimes the addition of the third person can confuse communication.

“Lots of information is lost through the interpreting process,” Lloyd said. “I am not deaf, but I think deaf students would learn better if teachers signed.”

CSUN student Julienne Nguyen disagrees.

The junior psychology major said she prefers an interpreter to a class taught in sign language. She was brought up in a hearing family and said she is completely comfortable in a hearing classroom.

“Deaf professors are too aggressive with their signing,” Nguyen said.

Jennifer Burnett, junior criminology and criminal justice major, said she has grown accustomed to the third person involved in her education. In her hometown of Granite Falls, Washington, she had the same interpreter for her four years in high school.

“I’m used to it,” Burnett said. “It’s a part of my life.”

Even at CSUN, with such a large number of deaf studies majors, there is a lack of interpreters as the demand far surpasses the supply.

Lloyd said the skill needed to interpret in a college lecture course is considerable.

“Even after seven years, I don’t feel comfortable doing it,” she said.

Team interpreting, in which interpreters work in pairs and rotate breaks every 20 to 30 minutes, is increasing.

Interpretering is not the only service required by deaf and hard of hearing students. They register with the NCOD to receive other services such as captioning, note-taking and tutoring.

Captioning and note-taking are another way in which deaf students obtain information in a hearing-class environment. There are two types of captioning: Realtime and TypeWell.

Realtime captioning requires court reporter typing skills and provides the deaf student with word- for-word text of the lectures and discussions in the class. TypeWell paraphrases all the verbal communication in class. Both are skills that only professionals provide and need to be contracted by the NCOD.

For students like Nguyen and Burnett, note-taking services make the difference between passing and failing a class.

Note-taking is a service usually performed by students in the deaf students’ classes. Students take notes on carbon paper, so there are two copies available. A $50 stipend is given to the student-assistant, plus priority registration provided by the NCOD.

“I need a note-taker because if I write the notes myself, I’ll miss what the interpreter is saying,” Burnett said.

The deaf and hard of hearing students interviewed recognize a lack of resources, but do not allow that to discourage them.

“I don’t see a difference between my education and anybody else’s, except that I struggle with the issue of a lack of services,” Burnett said. “It doesn’t allow me to get the equal access a hearing-student does.”

Regardless of the struggles involved with learning in a world set up for all five senses, deaf and hard of hearing students are now pursuing all levels of education.

“I had my share of troubles just like any other student,” Massimino said.

“No student should have to go through having your teachers and advisers tell you you’re not smart enough, but I persevered knowing I was able to do whatever I wanted to do.”

As one walks through Chisholm Hall, there is a sense of tranquility, but the CSUN deaf community is far from silent. It speaks through the hands of those who seek to give it a voice. As a flyer that hangs on the wall there reads, “Let your voice be heard.”

Connie Llanos can be reached at connie.llanos.600@csun.edu.