Thoughts on Communication at Gallaudet

Have you seen Carrie Suggs’ video yet? She talks about how Gallaudet University discriminates against deaf students with its communication policies. Guidelines for hiring employees say that staff should know basic ASL, but staff still struggle with signing.

While it seems obvious that the hearing staff at Gallaudet should be required to have a good working knowledge of ASL, Gallaudet’s policy on staff and faculty knowing sign language is vague. Initially, during the probationary period of employment, a new employee is required to take at least one ASL classes and achieve at least a novice’s level of signing ability. But, what about after that period? Right now, there’s nothing requiring an employee to keep up their knowledge of signing through continuing education, or to achieve fluency in ASL. This lack of fluency can lead to a lot of poor communication between staff and students.

I read a comment in response to Suggs’ video indicating Gallaudet has an “army of interpreters” ready to go in case you have communication difficulties. Well, that’s fine, but there’s a significant difference between communicating via an interpreter, and communicating with someone directly. If both individuals are communicating via ASL, they can get what they need to get done faster because they don’t have to wait around for an interpreter. Also, if Gallaudet is supposed to be the Deaf Mecca, if it’s the center of Deaf activity in the United States, and even worldwide, why do they need to rely on interpreters?

Deaf people from other countries hold Gallaudet in very high regard. Remember the review of the book Innocents of Oppression from last week’s Silent Grapevine? The characters in that story hoped their school would one day become the British equivalent of Gallaudet. In his article History of the Deaf in Russia, author Igor Abramov noted his belief that the two largest schools for deaf individuals in Russia could have expanded into the Russian equivalents of Gallaudet, had it not been for the rise of Communism. Both of these examples demonstrate the high level of esteem in which Gallaudet is held for its’ importance in the lives of Deaf individuals around the world.

With a school of this stature and importance, one would think Gallaudet would have accessible communication all over campus. But, as Suggs’ video demonstrates, that is not the case. This video should be an embarrassment for Gallaudet. As a leader in, and of, the Deaf world, Gallaudet needs to address it’s own problematic communication issues.

By Kelsey Young

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