The Deaf Community at GCC, Silent No Longer

Helen Galvin
El Vaquero Staff Writer

When deaf actor Troy Kotsur performed his one-man show for the entire GCC campus during the recent Health Expo his appearance was at the invitation of the Deaf Culture Club, a growing group of students silently making themselves heard on campus.

Rosita Ellis started the Deaf Culture Club two semesters ago to help hearing people understand deaf students and to dispel misconceptions about the deaf, such as that they are shy or standoffish. The truth is that most of them feel isolated by their inability to communicate well to the hearing.
“Hearing people often seem reluctant to talk [with us],” said Ellis. “They could use pen and paper, but we don’t often encourage them.”

According to Donna Scarfe, Lead Sign Language Interpreter and Deaf Services Coordinator, the deaf community at GCC has grown from four students in 1997 to 24 this year. The reason for the rapid increase is GCC’s reputation for having excellent computer programs. One of the programs some deaf students are attracted to is animation, a course of study that places deaf and hearing students on equal footing.
Having limitation does not stymie a deaf student from taking full advantage of all that GCC has to offer. Whether in a physics, math, art or physical education class, interpreters are the ears and mouthpieces for the deaf student.

Even if a class has only one deaf student an interpreter will be provided, but “scheduling is difficult,” Scarfe said.

During the Sept. 14 campus memorial for the victims of Sept. 11, with only an hour’s notice, Scarfe searched for an interpreter. Finding none available, she signed herself so that deaf students could fully participate.

Even with an interpreter, the most difficult classes are aerobics and English. “It is hard for me to hear the teacher’s instructions, but I follow the other students’ movements,” said Glenda Cruz, an aerobics student who has no hearing in her right ear and only 75 percent in her left ear.

Ninety percent of deaf people are born to hearing parents. But only a small percentage of parents learn to communicate with their children by learning to sign. Sign language is like a foreign language to anyone who has ever taken a class. Signing uses the fingers to spell out the alphabet. Hands move to say certain words and phrases, and facial expressions are used to add emotion or “sounds” to the word. Sign language is the key for a deaf person to lead a normal life.

Deaf students on campus communicate not only with sign language, but also through modern technology. Pagers have become their mode of “talking.” Pagers vibrate, and send messages from pager to pager. They are also used for e-mail, faxing and as palm pilots.

One of the biggest problems that GCC has yet to address is the telephone system. While the TDY (a device that allows the deaf to receive typed messages over standard telephone lines) is available to make calls within the school, there is no way to call outside the campus. Scarfe said this problem is being addressed.

With increased enrollment in American Sign Language courses, joint deaf/hearing theater projects and hearing students joining the Deaf Culture Club, GCC is working to give the deaf students a voice on campus.