Student Works To Promote Deaf Equality
October 2, 2012
By Jordan Gass-Poore’
Michelle Elliott is working to overcome the social stigma and stereotypes of the deaf community she has experienced from some Texas State faculty and staff.
Elliott, a graduate student who is “profoundly deaf” and wears hearing aids, said Texas State Office of Disability Services representatives offered to provide her with an interpreter. However, she does not know American Sign Language. Elliott said this is just one of several instances of disconnect she has experienced between the disability office and students who are deaf or have partial hearing loss.
Elliott registered through the Office of Disability Services when she was a Texas State undergraduate about five years ago. She wanted to find on-campus services for students who are deaf or have partial hearing loss. However, she quickly began running into problems.
An issue arose in an English class where Elliott said her “deafness” was called into question by the professor.
She said the professor put in a request for an interpreter for another deaf student in the class because they were going to watch a video without closed captioning capabilities. However, Elliott said the professor would not make accommodations for her because of disbelief of her deafness.
“This (hearing aid) isn’t a fashion statement,” Elliott said.
Elliott said she did not learn to sign because her family wanted her to be “mainstreamed” in the San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District. Instead, she began to read lips at nine years old.
Even though she does not know American Sign Language, Texas State interpreters, like Ellen Crabaugh, have played a role in her academic career.
As an undergraduate, Elliott said she would sometimes sit by students who are deaf and watch their interpreters in case she missed something while taking notes.
Four full-time and 24 part-time staff interpreters worked more than a combined 11,000 interpreting hours in the 2010 fiscal year. That same year, a total of 176 special interpreting requests were made by students.
Special interpreting requests for events and appointments for final exams can be submitted through the Texas State Office of Disability Services website at least 72 hours in advance.
Semester-long interpreter requests for academic classes must be submitted on a Request for Interpreters Course Schedule form available in the disability services office.
For the fiscal year 2011, 24 students used Texas State interpreting services.
Crabaugh said sometimes the interpreting process is made difficult by teachers who speak quickly, classroom noise and class-specific terminology where no sign language word exists, such as some computer classes.
Crabaugh, who previously worked as an interpreter in the Los Angeles area, said she has enjoyed watching former students succeed academically and professionally for more than a decade.
“Deaf-friendly” Texas State faculty members who have experience working with interpreters helped Crabaugh during the more than three years she has worked for the university.
“(It is) nice to know that I had some little part in helping bridge that communication barrier so that (the students) could succeed,” Crabaugh said.
While Crabaugh said working with the disability office has been nothing but a good experience, some students have had issues.
Elliott said her hearing aids and lack of on-campus resources for people with disabilities have hindered her academic success. Elliott said she received a low final grade in an undergraduate French class because the feedback from her hearing aids prevented her from wearing computer headphones for the lab portion.
Elliott’s frustration with disability services inspired her to make a difference in people’s lives. In 2005, Elliott said she and Jan Carmack, Texas State instructional technologies microcomputer lab coordinator, created the Access Computer Lab in room 204 in Academic Services Building South. Plans for a second lab are underway.
Emily Collins, psychology junior, has worked in the lab for a year. She said the lab’s technology is not very complicated. Many students who utilize the lab’s services are already accustomed to the technology offered.
Elliott said her work with Carmack and the Texas State Writing Center has led to her reputation as an advocate for people with disabilities.
“It takes somebody with enough empowerment and being pragmatic enough to force these things to happen because it’s expensive and it takes time. You have to write grants and petition,” Elliott said. “It’s so time consuming, and it’s hard. Most people who have faced the blocks I have faced wouldn’t still be here.”