By Taylor Caskey
While Virginia Tech prides itself on being an inclusive environment for many; certain students struggle in the minority. Although there are many programs to allow deaf students to find success in college, often times, many students who are hard of hearing lack certain privileges that some students take for granted. Many professors are not equipped with the proper skills to communicate effectively with these students. This is why the Language and Culture Institute decided to make a change.
Starting this year, the Language and Culture Institute at Virginia Tech is providing sign language training to faculty and staff. This is part of the effort to create a more inclusive environment at the school. Pamela Smart-Smith who runs the program believes that this will be part of a much greater effort to help bridge the gap between students with disabilities and those without.
“In the end, having more people have an understanding of ASL can only benefit those that use ASL every day to communicate as well as those that have developed a new way of speaking to others. Languages have the ability to bring the world closer together and really in the end that is where the true benefit lies,” said Smart-Smith.
Before this program, Virginia Tech offered interpreters, note-takers, and C-Print Captioning for these students. C-print captioning; an application that allows for certain classes to be close-captioned for students to read is mainly for students who do not prefer to use sign language with their instructors.
The program is beginning at a perfect time as the number of deaf students in colleges is only increasing. Sign language has also become the third largest language other than Spanish in French among college students in the United States according to bestcolleges.com.
There are more than 20,000 deaf or hard-of-hearing students that enroll in college every year according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. While the number of deaf students at Virginia Tech is unknown, the number seems to only be increasing as the school brings in new classes each year. Smart-Smith points out how the differences are not severe, but can create a disconnect between students.
“I think the biggest challenge faced by deaf students is simply that they are often seen through deficit eyes from those outside the deaf community. ASL is a beautiful language filled with nuances of expression and as such should not be viewed as less. Angela DeVore, the ASL instructor, helps accomplish this by not only teaching the language, but by providing students a chance to communicate with guest speakers from the deaf community,” she explained.
Weekly meeting are held at the Language and Culture Institute to aid staff members in creating a more all-encompassing environment at Virginia Tech.