Interpreters help deaf students overcome challenges

Interpreters help deaf students overcome challenges

Kelly Schooler uses sign language to ask recent Fairmont graduate Brandon Urmey a question from Flyer writer Nikki Kelley.

Just getting through a school day can be pretty chaotic. Teachers are talking, asking questions and giving assignments. Students are debating, discussing and joking around. Videos are blaring, lockers are slamming, and principals are making PA announcements.

Sometimes, it would be nice to just have a little silence, right? But imagine if the silence was permanent and you couldn’t hear any of those sometimes annoying but important sounds.

Just like hearing students, deaf students must get an education, but their disability can affect their chances to succeed. Because it’s hard for them to comprehend what’s being said around them, deaf individuals have a more difficult time understanding and responding to teachers and classmates, and that makes learning a huge challenge.

That’s where Kelly Schooler, the Deaf Educator for Kettering City Schools, comes in. “My priority is to make sure deaf and hearing-impaired students have the best accommodations with their education that they need,” she said. “I also make sure that students understand certain things being taught in the classroom.”

Deaf graduate recalls ‘horrible memories’

Of the 10 million hearing-impaired people in the United States, close to 1 million are considered completely deaf, according to Oxford University. Of these deaf individuals, 4 percent are under the age of 18 and are students who continue to go to school despite their disability.

2011 Fairmont graduate Brandon Urmey, now in college, was one of those students and he admits it wasn’t always easy being a deaf child in a hearing world.

“I have horrible memories of my childhood and dealing with my deaf problem,” he said. “When I was little, I liked to use sign language because it helped me communicate better. But I often felt forced to orally communicate, and that’s what I had to do until I went into the Kettering City School system.”

Although deaf individuals may be able to get by without speaking or listening to the people in a large group or in public places, when it comes time learning in a classroom, these students can no longer avoid interacting with others. For this reason, deaf students suffer through various disadvantages while trying to learn.

Schooler believes it’s the way that deaf individuals learn that makes these school days difficult. “We hear passively with our ears, whereas deaf individuals hear with their eyes,” said Schooler.

Urmey says class discussions and regular conversations with other students are very hard to deal with. “When I’m talking with someone face to face in a simple conversation, I can usually read the other person’s lips. It’s hard in a group to understand, though, because the voices are coming from all different directions. When you look at someone talking and then someone else starts talking to them, you understand what the person in front of you is saying but not the other person across the room,” said Urmey. “It sometimes makes me feel left out or excluded from other conversations.”

Continuing to go to school can be hard, and fighting the same battles every day can get tiring, but Urmey tells himself he’ll never give up and will keep living his life.

“To stay strong and keep up my perseverance, I always think positive and ask people for help when I need it,” he said. “I’m responsible for my learning and if I’m not getting what I should get in my education, I am the person who has to be asking the questions and making sure I get the things I need.”

It wasn’t until the 3rd grade when Urmey realized that using sign language might help him learn more easily. When Urmey was in the Kettering City Schools, his interpreters were Schooler and Breck Jordan, and he says their assistance was invaluable.

“It helps a lot to have an interpreter like Mrs. Schooler and Mrs. Jordan,” said Urmey. “If I didn’t have an interpreter, I would have to attend a special school like the Ohio School for the Deaf instead of a public school like Fairmont or the college I now attend, Sinclair.”

In the Kettering schools, Schooler checks in on classes where deaf or hearing-impaired students are being taught, and deaf interpreters such as Jordan guide the students routinely.

“As an educational interpreter, my job is to facilitate communication between the student and teacher,” said Jordan. “I take this very seriously since I consider myself a language model for these young learners. Being the link between the student, teacher and parent is a huge responsibility.”

Devices, services help in the absence of a translator

Deaf students always have help when an interpreter is near, but what about when their interpreter isn’t there? Fortunately, technology has improved over the past decade so that each deaf individual doesn’t have to struggle as much when it comes to communicating.

During the 1960s, deaf individuals used what is known as the TTY or teletypewriter.  This electromechanical typewriter helped the deaf person to communicate with hearing people over the phone. Now, deaf students can use their cell phones or other portable electronic devices to text without worrying about making a phone call.

Schooler has observed the many communication devices for the deaf and says that texting isn’t the only option. “I know several individuals that use devices called video remote interpreters,” she said. “They are video programs, almost like a web chat or Skype, which deaf individuals can use when they need translating from their interpreter without their interpreter being present.”

Schooler says a common use of this device is when a deaf individual goes to an appointment and needs help understanding what a doctor is saying. The deaf person uses a computer that allows the interpreter to see and hear the surrounding people, enabling the interpreter to translate.

Video Relay Service, another communication pathway used by the deaf, consists of interpreters available to make phone calls for these individuals 24 hours a day. “I use this if I’m ordering a pizza, and I plan what I want before calling because of the limited time I have,” said Urmey. “When I call, an interpreter answers and over the computer I use sign language to tell them what I want and they call to order for me. Then, they’ll sign back to me the amount of the order and let me know the estimated delivery time.”

Having help with conversations is a big advantage for deaf individuals, but the devices they’re able to use for other priorities make a difference as well. “Alarm clocks for the deaf are placed under their pillow and shake when they go off instead of buzzing,” said Jordan. “Also, houses equipped for the deaf can have lighting systems installed in the hallways and rooms that flash to alert the deaf of different things. For example, maybe the light would blink once if the phone was ringing, twice if the doorbell was ringing and it would flash red if the smoke detector was alarming.”

Interpreting for family members

Kathy Rhoades, a Planning for College and Work teacher at Fairmont, knows just what it’s like to assist deaf people with communication. “Both of my parents were deaf, but it didn’t make much of difference to me when I was little,” she said. “But now I realize that as the older child, I was always interpreting for them.”

Rhoades said she feels that when someone grows up around deaf individuals, it’s normal to learn their language and know how to live a different lifestyle. She says her parents both used sign language and could talk and read lips, but she had to be prepared to step in and help them when they needed it.

“When I was a little kid, if they didn’t understand something within the environment around them, I was always there to guide them,” said Rhoades. “At 10 years old, I helped them buy a water softener. Did you do that when you were 10?”

Despite their disability, deaf people aren’t truly any different than those with perfect hearing. As Rhoades puts it, deafness doesn’t change the intrinsic merit of people in any way. “Most people don’t know about the deaf culture and deaf people are really the same as hearing people,” she said. “They just use a different way to talk.”