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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Access for the Disabled: Center helps partially deaf student adjust

By Clayton Norlen

Through the Center for Disability Services, Tracy Whitesides, a partially deaf student, receives resources that assist her in the classroom so she can better follow discussions and get clarification on points made in class.

With the assistance of an FM stereo, note takers and interpreters, Whitesides, a junior in medical laboratory science, said her ability to perform in the classroom is greatly enhanced. The FM stereo connects the professor’s lecture to her hearing aids so she can better understand content. Note takers allow Whitesides to focus on the lecture, and an interpreter clarifies what the professor says and helps to translate student questions asked in class.

“When you don’t have any services backing you, you don’t get as much done in the classroom,” Whitesides said. “Class is a lot less stressful with support.”

Whitesides has been diagnosed with bilateral neural hearing loss almost her entire life. Because of her condition, she uses hearing aids to help her recognize speech and sounds. She said she can’t understand the meaning of noises around her without hearing aids. Although the hearing aids help in small settings, they become less effective in large settings because there’s too much noise.

“I don’t know what it’s like to have someone whisper in my ear or hear the leaves rustle,” Whitesides said. “And that’s normal for me. Frankly I don’t care, except for music.”

Throughout high school, Whitesides didn’t receive any accommodations from her school, and she said during those years, she largely taught herself.

It wasn’t until two years after starting her college career at Utah State University that Whitesides met other deaf or partially deaf students and learned about services schools could provide to make classes more manageable. Now Whitesides is pursuing a second degree at the U, and she is utilizing the U’s services for assistance.

“I’ve had to make adjustments for myself and learn what my study habits are,” Whitesides said.

To educate faculty and staff members who work with deaf students, the Center for Disability Services provides a two-page packet that includes information such as the American Sign Language alphabet, accommodations professors can expect and how to work with the students’ interpreters. Heather Jensen, disability adviser and coordinator for deaf services, said that the center provides interpreters who use sign, cued or oral communication methods.

Heather Beck, a sign language interpreter for the center, said interpreters don’t often work with a particular student, but it is important they work closely with students to build a rapport so they can convey the meaning of a professor’s lecture to the students quickly and effectively.

“Interpreting is very individual — what works for one student may not work for another,” Beck said. “The most important responsibility of the interpreter is matching the needs of the student in the classroom.”

In addition to interpreters, the center also provides real-time captioning, assisted listening devices and note takers. The services the center provides are also available outside of the classroom at U-sponsored events for a small fee.

Jensen said that when she approaches professors on behalf of students enrolled in a class, they are sometimes worried that an interpreter might be a distraction for themselves and students, “but after the first two classes, they just become part of the classroom environment.”

Michele Stuart, a professor in the pathology department, said the nature of the department’s course work requires that there be clear communication between professors and students because language in the class is almost foreign with all the medical terms.

Beck and Whitesides both said medical classes require them to create new signs for many of the words and concepts that are used in class. Words such as “hemoglobin” show up often in the classroom discussion, but without a quick sign to convey the meaning of what is said, both Beck and Whitesides can fall behind the rest of the class.

The transition into higher education was difficult because Whitesides said colleges operate at a much faster pace and only use reading as a supplement. Whitesides said she has had to learn to rely on lecture notes and in-class participation since coming to college.

Whitesides was the first deaf or partially deaf student for whom the pathology department has had to make accommodations, but Stuart said the center made the process relatively easy in comparison to another college for which she has worked.

“I think that if instructors could have an in-service presentation from the disability center, that would help instructors to better accommodate students,” Stuart said.

Whitesides said the most important thing for students to understand is that deaf students aren’t different from the rest of the student body — they just have additional needs in the classroom.

“Each of us, deaf or hard of hearing students have our own experiences — no person’s experience is the same,” Whitesides said. “And while our experiences may overlap at some points, we’re all unique in how we hear, learn or experience the campus, like anyone else here.”

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