An unfortunate aspect of human nature is our tendency to discriminate against one another for our differences.

Whether it be due to religious beliefs, cultural heritage, skin tone, gender, sexual orientation, or otherwise, society is moving at a snail’s pace to embrace rather than disregard said differences.

This is why it is important to broaden your horizons and attempt to understand the world from a perspective unlike your own.

One avenue in which West Chester University has accomplished such an expansion in their education is through the Health Science Center’s open display this past month of posters celebrating Deaf Awareness Month.

During the month of September, the Deaf and hearing impaired gather to celebrate the accomplishments of past Deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

Dr. Kat Ellis, West Chester University’s Deaf Studies minor advisor and American Sign Language Professor, says that a person who is Deaf is, “an individual [who] is part of a cultural and linguistic minority, with its rich traditions, storytelling, beliefs, history, language, and most especially community.”

Where many hearing individuals view deafness as a “disability,” the Deaf community rejects that label and owns their lack of hearing as intrinsic to their identity rather than a detriment to their lives.

This is why Ellis has fought so hard to have representation in this school.

Thanks to her efforts, not only is American Sign Language a fulfillment for language requirements in WCU, but as of last year she has helped institute the Deaf Studies minor and began the ASL club, where students enrolled in ASL or not can join and learn together.

As a part of her endeavor to raise awareness of Deaf culture she convinced the Health Science Center, the place in which all American Sign Language classes are located, to allow her students’ posters advertising different aspects of the Deaf movement to be put on full display for the duration of September.

Still, the Deaf Studies minor is very new and there is a lot more that needs to be done to educate this community at large about a lifestyle that is often overlooked.

Firstly, it is imperative to acknowledge that audism, the term used to describe the belief that hearing people are superior to non-hearing people, is a phenomenon that is still very much thriving in our society.

In 2011, the popular show “What Would You Do?”, a candid camera show which hires actors to ingratiate themselves in an environment and portray real life problems like discrimination in the hopes of engaging bystander action, set themselves up in Rochester, N.Y.

Rochester has a high population of Deaf people, which should theoretically prompt the general populace to be more culturally aware and considerate of the Deaf community.

However, when they went to a Rochester coffee shop and had an actor portraying an employee openly discriminate against Deaf applicants, hardly anyone spoke up in their defense.

To take this on a more personal level, Ellis claims that she has been discriminated against countless times in her life for her deafness.

One such occasion happened when the chairperson at the school she attended refused to let her into their graduate program, claiming that she, as a deaf individual, could not handle the course load.

Unfortunately, discrimination like this is not an anomaly. It’s commonplace.

Additionally, ASL is its own language. Yes, it does have strong ties to the English language, but ASL has its own grammatical context.

Just like any other language, it too evolves with time and is just as valid a method of communication to study as Spanish, German, French, or any other language is.
Finally, people from all different sorts of majors are welcome into the Deaf Studies minor.

True, there are those that plan to use Sign Language for their careers in Speech Pathology, Audiology, interpreting, or American Sign Language education, but other majors are in it purely for the love of the language.

I have this minor and I major in Communication Studies.

There are others in my class who major in History, Education, and more. The minor is open to all.

The display in the Health Science Center will feature something else, but the opportunity to learn will always be there.

The minor is only 18 credits, 12 of which are the ASL classes. ASL club meets on Mondays at 7:15 and, should you want to join, Ellis will be more than happy to ensure you are added to the list.

There is even a Deaf church across the street from the Commonwealth dorm which holds events open to everyone.

There are so many opportunities to learn beyond this article and I encourage you all to do so. September is over now, so let’s work together to make every month Deaf Awareness Month!

Halle Nelson is a second-year studnet majoring in communications with minors in English literature and deaf studies. She can be reached at HN824858@wcupa.edu.

Leave a Comment