Understanding their plight
Appeal Staff Writer
For one day, those who could hear were disabled.
Up to two percent of the population in the U.S. is deaf or hard of hearing, yet society – according Western Nevada College American Sign Language instructor Cindy Frank, who is also partially deaf – usually turns a deaf ear.
Especially in Nevada.
“There’s a big, big problem here,” Frank said during a break from the festivities at the school’s second annual ASL Club Deaf Pride Day on Saturday afternoon.
“We actually got a law passed (mandating) a deaf school and more deaf education. But you know where that went – budget cuts.”
Nevada is the only state in the union that does not have a deaf academy.
Perhaps there are other, more urgent problems plaguing academia, such as attaining goals of “No Child Left Behind,” surmised one of Frank’s students, Cherie Gomes. Gomes also is a full-time undergraduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno, earning her degree in elementary special education.
But students like Gomes, born and raised in Reno, will eventually take their career paths to other regions of the country if Nevada doesn’t keep time with educational challenges.
“I want to stay here and teach,” Gomes said. “I’d like to continue my education here. But there isn’t the type of (graduate) school I need.”
Gomes said she’s considering doing post-graduate work at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the nation’s first and leading school for the deaf.
“If I do go there – once I’m done, I’d like to teach at a deaf school. But there’s no such thing here in Nevada.”
For now, Frank said, many deaf students get by in public school – but that too, can present a problem.
“Some are very adapt and blending in with the (hearing) population of students,” she said. “But what people have to remember, being deaf is very isolating.
“Sometimes (students) don’t have anyone to talk to except for their interpreter, who isn’t a peer. How would that make you feel?”
Though rhetorical, Frank’s question was seemingly answered by the dozens of attendees Saturday who could hear but did not know sign language.
Some shifted their weight while signed conversations took place around them. Others simply grabbed a soda and a slice of melon and sat by themselves, or pretended to make busy at the Silent Auction table.
“Of course we’re including everyone today,” Frank said. “But, for once, those who can hear are the minority. And they see a little bit of what it’s like to be on the other side.”
Connie Capurro, WNC’s president of student and academic affairs, was on hand and said the school’s ASL program is “one of the top in the region.”
“We’re very proud of the work done here,” Capurro said. “This is one of our best program. They have our full support.”
Frank, who said WNC is the only school in the state to teach ASL I-VI, said programs are available at the school from high school age on up.
“We have afternoon programs for (high school) students,” she said. “We have programs for parents of deaf children.”
Frank said some 90 percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents. Some 85 percent of those parents do not know sign language.
One child reflecting this statistic in attendance Saturday was Elvis Brewer, 14, who attends Wooster High School in Reno.
Deaf since birth, Brewer said he has friends who are deaf and friends who can hear. He said he helps kids learn sign language during P.E.
His peers are receptive, but, the problem, he said, is there’s only a limited number of programs for deaf students.
“It’s good overall, people are receptive to (sign language),” he said through interpreter Frank. “But there’s only a limited time (other students) can learn.
“I think we’re educating people here today,” Frank said. “People can come to the school and they can learn. ASL is an accredited foreign language.
“But what’s more important is that people understand how crucial programs like (ASL) are.” For more information about WNC’s ASL program visit http://www.wnc.edu or contact Cindy Frank at 445-4407.
• Contact reporter Andrew Pridgen at 881-1219 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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