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November 19, 2002

Massage class offers aid to translator to help deaf

From: Gary Post Tribune, IN
Nov. 19, 2002

By Michelle L. Quinn / Post-Tribune correspondent

MERRILLVILLE — Witnessing Bobbie Jo Arocho in her clinical massage therapy class could intimidate even the most serious student.

Arocho watches Merrillville Beauty College instructor Vicki Withers’ every move with fierce determination, taking in even minute details, including the proper way to tuck the sheets around her patient.

“Watch” is the operative word with Arocho. The 27-year-old Highland resident is deaf and has been since birth.

That’s why when Arocho first approached the school before classes began in October, Withers wasn’t sure Arocho would be able to learn such a hands-on craft.

But Arocho, who holds a theology degree from Hyles Anderson College in Schererville and a cosmetology license, came with glowing recommendations from her former teachers and a fierce determination.

“She is always ready to go,” Withers said. “She never misses class and her homework is always done.”

Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, schools must take some action, within their financial means, to help disabled students receive the help they need to complete their schooling.

So once Withers realized that Arocho was determined to take the class, she looked into hiring an American Sign Language interpreter for her. But the school would have to pay for two interpreters per class at $45 per half-hour each.

“We’re a small independent school,” Withers said. “For Bobbie Jo to complete the course, it would cost us in excess of $100,000. (The clinical massage class) doesn’t even make that in a year.”

And, because Arocho is completely independent and working on her own, she doesn’t qualify for any kind of disability aid.

That’s why Withers, also the administrative coordinator for Merrillville Beauty College, is offering a full ride to the school’s clinical massage therapy program to a master signer who would interpret for Arocho.

“There has to be someone out there who has the time and would like to come to school and learn massage therapy,” Withers said.

In the meantime, Arocho’s fellow classmates help out by writing down what the instructors say when Arocho’s in class.

But her classmates get frustrated, too, because they don’t feel like they’re helping enough.

“We feel like she’s left out sometimes,” said Lisa Hosein of Hammond. “An interpreter would definitely help.”

Arocho says she is going to get her massage therapy degree with or without the help of an interpreter.

“I know for sure I want to make people feel good and walk out the door with a big smile on their face. That’s my goal right now,” Arocho said in an e-mail. “If people think a deaf person can’t do it, then I have to show them wrong.”

© Post Tribune