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January 27, 2003

Grad student: OU doesn't do enough for hearing impaired

From: The Athens News, OH - 27 Jan 2003

By Adam Townsend Athens NEWS Campus Reporter
Though Ohio University's Institutional Equity office says it can adequately accommodate deaf students, one OU graduate student says the university can do more for the hearing impaired.

"Don't get me wrong, the (Institutional Equity) office does provide services for students -- and sometimes they're great -- but there's a lot of room for improvement," said Leslie Phalen, a grad student who teaches sign language at the university.

The OU Office of Institutional Equity, the body responsible for providing services to disabled students at the university, provides services for the hearing impaired, including note takers for classes, special phones, interpreters and amplification devices.

Phalen, however, said it's difficult for hearing-impaired students to get sign language interpreters for class lectures at OU. "As far as getting an interpreter for classes, it's very difficult," she said. "Let's face it, Athens isn't a city known to help students with disabilities, in my opinion."

Katherine Fahey, assistant director of institutional equity, said OU hires no interpreters directly; the university contracts with firms from cities such as Columbus to provide translators for any deaf students who may decide to attend the school.

Though there are several hard-of-hearing students registered with the office, no deaf students attend the university, she said.

"There are deaf people who don't use sign language. Our mission is not to use cookie-cutter accommodations," she said. "We don't have any deaf students using interpreters at the Athens Campus."

Phalen speculated that this is because the university offers few classes in deaf education, which may discourage members of the deaf community from enrolling at OU or living in the Athens area.

"I'm not aware of any (degrees) that can be completed in our department, we only offer American Sign Language, level one," she said.

Fahey disagreed with the notion that a lack of course offerings discourages the deaf from attending OU. Though the university has no deaf education program, she said, it's not necessarily the reason for the small deaf population in Athens and the absence of deaf students enrolled at the university.

"There's not a lot of interpreters in the southeast Ohio area? It's sort of a 'chicken and egg' type of thing," she said.

Phalen countered, "Who would want to move to a community where their language is foreign?"

She said that Kent State -- the northeast Ohio university where she obtained her undergraduate education -- has much better programs to accommodate the hearing impaired in the areas of both access and academics.

Anne Jannarone, director of Kent State's Student Disabilities Office, said Kent's location and course offerings are factors in her university's success in deaf accessibility.

"We're a little more fortunate than OU because we're sandwiched in between several urban areas (Akron and Cleveland), and it's easier to get interpreters," she said. "Plus, both Kent State and University of Akron have outstanding deaf education programs."

Jannarone said students can obtain a four-year degree in interpreting, where most other universities offer only a two-year program.

Phalen echoed Jannarone's comments, saying Kent and Akron have "a stronger pool of people to help."

OU'S ACADEMIC PROGRAMS involving the hearing impaired may change in the next few years, however.

Teresa Tyson-Drummer, administrative associate for OU's Hearing and Speech Sciences Department, said, "We technically don't offer those courses on the Athens campus," but an interpreting program is being developed at OU's Chillicothe branch.

"You're talking about a very particular skill because you're not only teaching signs, but the culture and history of the language," she said about OU Chillicothe's program.

The course of study is in the development stages and may eventually move to the Athens campus, she added.

Tyson-Drummer noted, however, that OU does have an extensive program in audiology -- the medical side of the hearing-impairment field involving therapy and hearing aids. In fact, she said, OU now offers a clinical doctorate in the field as an addition to its existing program.

Tyson-Drummer also mentioned the university's hearing clinic in Grover Center on West Green. "They can do infant screenings, all sorts of hearing tests, hearing aid fittings and moldings," she said.

Janet Duvall, who is orchestrating the new program at OU Chillicothe, said an $83,000 grant has partly funded a new lab for the program on her campus. The program offers a two-year degree in sign language.

"With all the construction that's going on at the (Chillicothe campus), it's taken a little longer, but we're using the lab right now," she said. "We're training people to work as interpreters in the education system."

Duvall said, however, that the Chillicothe program is still in its infancy.

Phalen said that education is the way to build acceptance and equality for the hearing impaired. "I really believe in educating students, not only about signs, but about deaf culture," she said. "I want students to be advocates for deaf people, but it's hard to do that when you only have one quarter of sign language."

© 2003 The Athens News