“I attribute my love for accessibility to my parents. My parents were both deaf and they were both educators. They both taught in middle and high school at the Missouri School for the Deaf. Interestingly enough, they also impacted other members of my family – my brother, my sister, my bother-in-law, my sister-in-law and myself, every person in our immediate family has had some aspect of accessibility in their career life. My parents had a huge impact in our family in encouraging us to become more aware of and to enable accessibility throughout our communities.
With that, personally, I had the opportunity of growing up on campus at the Missouri School for the Deaf. So the impact that I personally experienced was more than just my parents, it was my community. My friends growing up were the students at the Missouri School for the Deaf. American Sign Language (ASL) was my first language, English is my second language, and the culture that I most identify with is the culture of the deaf community. Even though I am hearing, I have the ability to hear, because of the environment where I grew up in, I more closely associate my culture and preferred language to the deaf community.
I started signing first with my parents, and it was through my older brother, sister, other family members, and the hearing world around me that I would then learn to also speak, but interestingly enough, ASL is a very different language than English. It is like any language, it has its own grammatical structure. Often times individuals don’t realize that ASL is a true language, with all the grammatical features and syntax that any other language has.
Often times individuals don’t realize that ASL is a true language, with all the grammatical features and syntax that any other language has.
When I started communicating as a child, my structure and my language were ASL. And so I had to work on developing English as a second language, and the area that is probably the most challenging in that development has been my written language. I have developed the spoken aspect of the English language, but when I go to write a paper or write a blog, it takes me a while to get all my thoughts down and then I have to go back and rewrite the paper or make the grammatical changes in order to put it into correct English.
Career-wise, I have had the opportunity to extend out beyond just the deaf community and work in other areas of accessibility, have it be physical or have it be also cognitive disability. So through my career I have had the opportunity to branch out beyond just the accessibility for individuals that are deaf. And all of that does stand from my experiences growing up.
If you look at the history of education for students that are deaf, back in the 1800s, education was very segregated here in the United States and in other countries also. You would have a residential school for the deaf and all deaf students had to leave their families and go live there for nine months out of the year. They were not able to grow up in a family unit, but rather the school being their family.
Then we move to an integrated approach where students that were deaf would be integrated into their local public schools but still had a separate classroom. This allowed the students to experience growing up within the family unit, but education-wise they became very isolated, because you would have one, maybe two deaf students in a school. And they did not have that peer opportunity to engage with other students that had the same experience, the same language, the same culture.
Now that we moved to a more inclusive environment, more and more deaf students are included in that learning environment with all children, which means that they may be the only deaf students in that public school going through their classes and they have nobody that they can identify with or potentially communicate with fluently in their language. It’s like an international student being placed in another country and being educated with everybody else that is from that country. You do not have that opportunity for the full personal growth that you would have with your peers.
Having said all that, what online education does is allowing those individual students that had been isolated, to come together without having to physically relocate.
Having said all that, what online education does is allowing those individual students that had been isolated, to come together without having to physically relocate. Online education allows them to connect, allows them to be in an environment with other deaf students where they can still have that peer to peer interaction, they can have the opportunity to engage on different levels with other students that communicate in the same language, have the same culture, have very similar life experiences. So I am a huge proponent of this, it has not been done very effectively yet, but I hope that in my lifetime I can have the experience of seeing deaf students educated online in an environment that really fosters their cultural and social engagement.
I love a quote by I. King Jordan, former President of Gallaudet University, the university for the deaf here in Washington, DC. Jordan said: ‘Deaf people can do anything, except to hear’. And that really sets the stage for, that often times communities, cultures, countries, will establish a lower expectation of somebody that has a different ability, when they don’t realize that those individuals might do something different, but that different does not have to be less.”
Scott Ready, Blackboard’s Principal Strategist for Accessibility. Photo: AFP John Carrington.