Deaf (ASL)

Interviewed: Nanette Hix

BYU American Sign Language Professor

Tell me a little about your work history.

I have been a teacher for 18 years. I remember that when I was first getting started, I was working 5 part-time jobs. I was working from seven in the morning and go home late at night. It was a crazy schedule. I was working hard because I wanted to buy a house. So I would work like a mad woman and gather all of the money I could to make the down payment. It was a challenge, but it was worth it. And immediately after I bought the house, I started pruning down on my jobs until I only had one left.

Did you ever have trouble finding a job?

NO! I have been really blessed. When I returned home from my mission, and heading to grad school, my friend offered me a teaching position. I agreed to take the job. Shortly after, I was talking to my boss. During the conversation, the phone rang. It was someone asking my boss if he had anyone interested in a part-time early morning job teaching Deaf students. He asked if I wanted it. I accepted and we continued talking. Moments later, the phone rang again, with another job offer! It was another teaching job, this time for a late morning class. I accepted again. It was perfect! And that was how it was. People just kept giving me one job offer after another! Heavenly Father really blessed me.

Tell me about your education. Which schools did you attend?

I attended a Deaf residential school in Ohio for most of my early education and then attended Gallaudet University for college and grad school. My major was in theater education. I wanted to work in a classroom and teach students how to dream and envision a character and well…learn how to act. Obviously I haven’t ever become a theater teacher, many people work in different fields than they studied. But I still get to, as a teacher of the Deaf and ASL students, help students learn to use facial expressions to communicate and come outside of their shell.

Growing up, did you have some kind of mentor or role model?

Yes. Growing up in the residential schools I looked up to my Deaf teachers. I had hearing teachers as well, and they were nice…but I REALLY looked up to my Deaf teachers. They were successful and cool and I wanted to become just like them. I also had a dorm parent (I lived at the residential school starting at the age of 5) who I looked up to as a successful Deaf adult. Those two kinds of people were the ones who made me want to be successful myself.

Was it ever hard for you to grow up in a residential school?

At 5, when my parents first dropped me off and drove away, I cried and banged on the doors and wanted to run after the car. But a teacher grabbed me and held me back and told me that I would be ok. Then I looked around and saw many children that were all the same age as me and all Deaf…and then I was fine. Those people, those friends were my second family. I grew up with them and so, especially when those relationships developed, it was not hard for me to be at the school. It was my second home. And an important point to make was that I was an independent child. I didn’t go around begging and depending on people. So I was fine. That is an important distinction to make.

What advice would you give parents of Deaf children to encourage them to be successful individuals?

It is important to realize that many Deaf feel inferior when they are immersed in the Hearing World. They think, “I can’t do this, I can’t do anything.” But the parents need to say,” YES! You can! You can!!” They need to help their children believe that they can be successful and help them see all of the things that they are good at and all of the ways to adapt to their environment.

Would you encourage the parents to send the child to a residential school? Would the children have a better chance for success in that environment?

It depends on where they live. If they were from Utah, I would NOT recommend a residential school. It’s too easy here. The students are not challenged and therefore they are behind, education wise when they graduate high school. I would recommend the Ohio residential school. But it really depends on where they live as to what would be better. As long as there is competition and a motivation to excel as opposed to just moving through the system, the student will learn.

What advice would you give to young Deaf individuals in regards to education and a career?

I would encourage them to remember that they can be successful if they want to be. I would encourage them to attend school, go to Gallaudet and make a name for themselves! Accomplish their dreams. If they have any inclination to teach, I would highly recommend them to become teachers of the Deaf to support the next generation. There are too many Deaf who rely on social security checks because they were too lazy or didn’t have enough encouragement to better themselves or educate themselves. The biggest thing to get across is that they CAN do whatever they set their minds out to do. They CAN.

Interviewed: Christopher Palaia

BYU Deaf Culture Professor

Please describe your education and chosen career and some of the challenges that you have had to face on your way.

I never had any challenges with education until I entered BYU for my MBA/MPA. I had to have interpreters work with me for the first time. The third party communication was very difficult. I had always had direct communication with my Deaf teachers before and the transition was really hard.

As for employment, I haven’t experienced to many difficulties. When I worked for hearing employers, our main communication was done through writing. Only a few of them knew sign language. My other jobs have been Deaf related. I worked at Deaf schools, Deaf centers, College positions teaching either ASL or Deaf culture. It really hasn’t been too bad.

How have you overcome these challenges?

I used common sense….and I made a special effort to educate those I was working with about Deaf people and their culture. I would write papers and letters and help them understand where I was coming from and what I understood about where they were coming from. This helped a great deal to diminish miscommunication and challenges.

Did you have any sort of mentor to look up to?

Yes , I have several. One of them is Ron Burdett. He is Vice President of Sorensen Relay Company in Salt Lake City. He is like a Deaf father to me and has helped me and given me advice all of my life. I look up to him a great deal.

Did deafness influence your career choice in any way?

Not really. I am very happy and very proud of my Deafness but it didn’t influence my decision to become and engineer. The only thing that has come specifically because of being Deaf is the opportunity to teach at BYU.

What advice would you give to parents of a deaf child?

I would tell them to open their mind! Think of their Deaf child and what they really want and what will actually work in terms of their future. With the greatest love, try not to destroy the child by trying to “fix” them (i.e. cochlear implants, etc) by “normalizing” them. They will not be exactly like their parents, but that doesn’t mean that they are not a complete person with full potential as they are.

What advice would you give to a deaf child or adolescent?

Try to understand your hearing parents. They are trying their best despite the fact that they may be misinformed about the best ways to raise a Deaf child. Try to educate them as you educate yourself. Direct them in the things that you know will be beneficial to you. Do your homework and be patient with yourself and with your parents. Work WITH them.