Viewpoint: Online classes level playing field for deaf students

PHOTO BY SARA ANDERSON Student Kayla Bursaw signs to a classmate in Rebecca Thomas’ American Sign Language II class in spring 2012 on Cambridge campus. In ASL II, students move from simple vocabulary to the syntax of ASL. Class projects also engage deaf culture, including an experiment to test students’ ability to survive as a deaf and blind person for a period of time--with assistance from their classmates.PHOTO BY SARA ANDERSON Student Kayla Bursaw signs to a classmate in Rebecca Thomas’ American Sign Language II class in spring 2012 on Cambridge campus. In ASL II, students move from simple vocabulary to the syntax of ASL. Class projects also engage deaf culture, including an experiment to test students’ ability to survive as a deaf and blind person for a period of time--with assistance from their classmates.

PHOTO BY SARA ANDERSON  Student Kayla Bursaw signs to a classmate in Rebecca Thomas’ American Sign Language II class in spring 2012 on Cambridge campus. In ASL II, students move from simple vocabulary to the syntax of ASL. Class projects also engage deaf culture, including an experiment to test students’ ability to survive as a deaf and blind person for a period of time--with assistance from their classmates.

PHOTO BY SARA ANDERSON
Student Kayla Bursaw signs to a classmate in Rebecca Thomas’ American Sign Language II class in spring 2012 on Cambridge campus. In ASL II, students move from simple vocabulary to the syntax of ASL. Class projects also engage deaf culture, including an experiment to test students’ ability to survive as a deaf and blind person for a period of time–with assistance from their classmates.

By Marisa Sorenson
Online editor

Online classes provide advantages to certain students that might have difficulties otherwise. Deaf students are part of that group.

Deaf students make up a small, often overlooked percentage of students. Sometimes they aren’t readily visible until they start signing. They are still a part of the Anoka-Ramsey community, with or without perfect hearing.

I am deaf myself, and my experiences with on-campus and online classes have been very different. I prefer online classes because of the accessibility it gives me.

The online written format provides the same access to information and to the professor for the deaf student that equals hearing students’ intake. Sitting in an on-campus class can be very challenging for me. I have qualified interpreters, yes, but it is not the same as hearing the information directly from the teacher’s lips.

Most times, interpreted lectures go smoothly because there is only one person talking, which is the teacher. Of course, smooth interpreting usually depends on the speaker’s speed and the level of noise in the room.

A group discussion, on the other hand, is a whole new ballgame. The interpreter is often thrown into a hurry-up mode as they struggle to catch up with all of the rapid fire ideas and responses.

When I have something to add, it is typically too late for me to chime in. Online classes provide me with unlimited access to all of the materials and discussions. I am able to become an integral and valuable part of the class.

My personal experience doesn’t mean that online classes are the answer for all deaf students. On-campus environments can be better for some deaf students due to the language barrier. English is not our first language, but rather our second. ASL is our first language, so some deaf students prefer to have interpreted classes than wading their way through online courses full of English words and phrases. Overall, each student has unique challenges and needs, and the varied format of classes provide what everyone needs.

If you see a deaf student in one of your classes and want to talk to them, jump in! Go up to them if the interpreters are there and start chatting.

Or if the interpreters aren’t available, just start writing back and forth. Basic fingerspelling could help. Just try your best to make them feel welcome. It might be difficult at first, but later you learn something new about a wholly different culture that could help you in the future. Don’t be afraid to take that first step!

About the Author

The Campus Eye Staff
The Campus Eye is published by students of the Cambridge and Coon Rapids campuses of Anoka-Ramsey Community College. Campus Eye articles in print and online represent the opinions of the writers and not the college or the student body.