At SMC, the Voices of the Deaf Community are Heard
Imagine going to your first day of classes and walking through the masses of students but not hearing a single sound. You make your way to the classroom and pay little to no attention to the guy with the pounding speakers, the car alarm that goes off in the far distance, and the sounds of laughter and shared secrets that surround you.
You sit down in class and try to make sense of the professor's moving lips and body language but are glad to see that an interpreter, the bridge between you and the hearing world, has arrived. For the majority of deaf students at Santa Monica College, this is a daily reality.
Included among the vast diversity of cultures that make up our campus is that of the deaf community. Just as in other cultures, those who are deaf share their own language, American Sign Language. Additionally, they have customs and beliefs unique to themselves that encompass their sense of unity. The culture is not limited to those with the audiological condition, but extends to family members and other significant people in their lives.
Approximately 25 to 28 students at SMC identify as deaf or hard of hearing and another hundred students classify themselves as other hearing impaired, according to Jo An Joseph-Peters. Joseph-Peters is the supervisor of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services at SMC and explains that the community can utilize the services provided by the Disabilities Center.
The center provides services ranging from captioning to interpreting, and assists those in need with a selection of learning devices. “[These services] are important because deaf and hard of hearing students usually come from a culture where they are accustomed to having their needs met as a second thought,” Joseph-Peters adds. “One of the great things about this college is that no student’s needs here are second thoughts.”
In an interview conducted with the help of Joseph-Peter’s interpreting, Hugo Roque shared his experience of being a deaf student at SMC. Roque was born deaf and is a first-year student majoring in Technical Design. He started using hearing aids at an early age and recently switched to a cranial cochlear implant. The implant has further increased his hearing ability to a level where continued training sessions may eventually allow him to speak.
However, for the time being Roque will continue to use sign language as his primary form of communication. He can hear muffled speech and more distinct sounds such as the ringing of a bell. No matter the state of his communication, he maintains that his goal is to get a good education. “I’m not really successful in English, but I’m going to try and I’m going to keep building it up."
Mike Kayembe, another deaf student on campus also seeks to improve his English proficiency as well as explore his interest in film and photography. He interacts comfortably with both deaf and hearing students and is fond of the services offered at SMC. “I think the interpreters are amazing and optimistic,” Kayembe said. “There’s nothing I can think of to improve.”
Among the 100 hard of hearing students who do not utilize the Disabilities Center’s services is second-year student Amit Oldak. Oldak is a psychology major who wears a hearing aid but can communicate without sign language. Oldak suffers from sensori-neural hearing loss, a type of hearing loss in which the tiny ear hairs that receive and send electrical signals to the brain are damaged.
Oldak was not aware of his hearing loss until he took a mandatory hearing test in elementary school. The test results revealed that he had about 60 percent hearing loss in both ears. The cause of his hearing loss is unknown but Oldak was not initially distressed upon hearing the diagnosis.
“It did not really bother me at the moment, but after I got hearing aids I started hearing things I couldn’t before. Like electric windows on a car, which was pretty amazing,” Oldak admitted. “I had no base line to establish what hearing sounded like, so I just assumed that everyone heard things the same way I did.”
When Oldak first started at SMC, he made sure that his hair concealed his hearing aid. He was afraid of discrimination and did not want other students to be aware of his hearing disability. However, as he grew older he decided to cut his hair. "A balding head and long hair don't mix. I cut my hair which was a jump into not caring about others opinions."
Language interpreters Crystal Lagunas and Kathy Solis agree that the disadvantages of being a deaf or hard of hearing student depends on their attitude more so than their physical disability. They explain that it is important to keep in mind that personalities vary from student to student. “Because some [hearing impaired] students are more social, they will find a way to be social no matter what, and they may even use us to ask students about personal matters,” Lagunas said.
Solis added that “some deaf people may feel that being deaf is to their advantage. They like that they are in their own world, they are not distracted and they do not hear any negative chatter.”