DHH students’ resilience shines through

By Milan Nguyen

DHH
The sign for “Deaf” in Sign Language in watercolour against a blue sky. Art by Apsara Senaratne

High school life is tough for any student. With homework, projects, and class assignments, it is easy to get buried in the workload. Time management is key, as is making sure you get the information needed, or else you may not know what is required of you. With this in mind, school life for students who are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing (DHH) is far more challenging than it is for most hearing students.

The school has students whose hearing loss ranges from mild to profoundly deaf. All of these students find similar challenges in their academics, however.

One of the challenges a Deaf student faces regularly includes learning English. Many people believe that American Sign Language (ASL) is English in signing form. However, this is not the case. For example, while in English, someone would say, “I am going to the bathroom,” in ASL, it would be “BATHROOM ME GO-TO.” Because of this, Deaf students must not only interpret what is being signed to them, but also translate what the interpreter is saying into English when they write notes for instance.

One challenge that Hard-of-Hearing students face is the assumption that, since they can often speak fluent English, they can also hear everything. Hard-of-Hearing students can hear some sounds but not all. While in a one-on-one conversation, they can understand what the speaker is saying through a combination of sounds and lip-reading, in a classroom setting, it gets more difficult. In the classroom, there are multiple speakers, making it difficult to lip-read. Also, some students tend to mumble, making comprehension more difficult if not impossible.

“In classes with a lot of communication, they are trying to get the message. This person is talking and that person is talking. It’s hard because they can’t comprehend,” DHH coordinator Audrey Flowers said.

One of the the main issues for the DHH community is communication.

“The challenge is to equalize the playing field. [Though] a hearing student can hear everything that is being said, Hard-of-Hearing and Deaf students have to use their eyes to comprehend. Sometimes they can hear, depending on the level of their hearing loss, but if they don’t see the face of the speaker, they’re not going to be able understand. They might hear sounds, but they won’t be able to comprehend the message,” Flowers said.

This is also true in reverse.

“In my ASL class, DHH students feel more comfortable because it is their language and culture, while for my hearing students, it is a new experience and they feel confused. In a regular class, it is the reverse. For me, it is more work, because it not only involves my signing, but also involves my interpreter and students speaking. There is no direct communication. But with my DHH students, there is direct communication,” ASL teacher Kelly Steen said,

Even though there are major obstacles, DHH students don’t see themselves as weak or unable to keep up with hearing students.

For example, senior Eduardo Valdivia, who is Hard-of-Hearing, says that he sometimes struggles in his drawing class.

“Whenever the teacher looks away, I tend to have a tough time understanding what’s happening, but when I look around and see what the other students are doing, then I know what’s happening around me,” Valdivia said.

Many DHH students see themselves as being more resilient than hearing students due to the fact that they must overcome more challenges.

Flowers’ students wrote in their journals that they are unflaggingly proud to be DHH.

“Everyday, we have to use our eyes to focus on people’s lips and we have to stay on track with them. And we have to fight through difficult times to manage what we’re getting out of the class. But we are strong and proud.” one journal read.

In short, while DHH students encounter more obstacles, they are willing to face it head on. For they are proud of who they are and feel no shame in their deafness or hearing loss.

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