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February 1, 2003

School for the Deaf is a home away from home for its students

From: Indianapolis Star Y Press, IN - 01 Feb 2003

By Emily Jacobi, 14, Y-PRESS

hen Mindy Jo Schmidt was a baby, her first word was not "Mama" or "Daddy." It was "Christmas tree."

Instead of saying it, she signed it.

Mindy Jo, now 16, was born Deaf. Y-Press interviewed her, as well as Anu Saarijarvi, 18; Amanda Huser, 15; and Jason Wilson, 17, at the Indiana School for the Deaf.

The school has 291 students from all over Indiana. Anu is an exchange student from Finland.

Like Mindy Jo, Anu and Amanda were born Deaf. Jason became Deaf after an ear infection at age 3. They all have Deaf family members.

They all use American Sign Language to communicate, and they do some lip reading. Jason has some hearing and can speak.

They told us, through a sign language interpreter, about their experiences with hearing people, life at their school, and fitting into a hearing world.

They would prefer that the term Deaf be capitalized because they consider the Deaf culture to be a separate and unique community.


ANU: I am used to being around Deaf people, and that is my norm. All of my friends are Deaf.

MINDY JO: I don't really socialize with hearing people because of communication issues. If they are hearing and of the same age, we might pass each other . . . and they might try to finger-spell or write back and forth. But really the communication is just not there.

ANU: It is really difficult to communicate with hearing people. You know, if they are playing games, they always play the games where you have to talk and communicate with each other.

JASON: There are many times when I would like to get involved in things with hearing people at my home. I want to be in pickup games and so on.

Sometimes you have to be assertive and get in there and show that you can do it. Sometimes hearing people are willing to be a little more flexible, and that is really nice if they are, but if not, they just blow me off.

ANU: They think that because we can't hear, we are not intelligent.

AMANDA: Sometimes I see teen-agers my age talking and I feel a little left out because I wonder what they are talking about. If I want to find out, I have to let people interpret for me.

ANU: Sometimes I will notice at McDonald's if I ask for paper or pencil to write something, they get nervous and seem just flustered and they don't know what to do. . . . When I pay for my food, they are still nervous and kind of freaked out.

AMANDA: I use ASL as my first language and you use English and you can hear it. And we just use English for writing.

ANU: In a Deaf situation, we like to sit at big round tables so we can see each other and talk. We have to have appropriate lighting so we can see each other when we are talking. SCHOOL LIFE

JASON: This is a school for Deaf students. Basically it is the same as any public school. We have a residential program. In that way, it is a little different. Kids stay over through the week if they live far. Eighty percent of the students are in the residential program and stay in the dormitory through the week.

MINDY JO: All the teachers know sign language. Half (the teachers) are hearing, half are Deaf. But they all know sign language and are very fluent.

ANU: Here at the Deaf school, we are all the same; we share the same language. I have never been to a hearing school. I have always been in a Deaf program.

JASON: At one time I did think about going to a public school to meet my educational needs. I was thinking it over, but I thought twice. In public schools it would be much tougher for me to be in varsity sports . . . and I wouldn't necessarily have friends or a social life. I feel like my heart is here at ISD.

ANU: When (my parents) were Deaf and growing up, education wasn't as nice. Because they have experience from Deaf school, they knew I would never want to go (to hearing school) because of the communication. We would have to go with interpreters. . . . There would be no socialization; there would be no friends.

MINDY JO: In a hearing school you have your gangs and your preppies. Here at the Deaf school, we identify each other as Deaf. We don't have cliques. It's a big group and an identity thing.

JASON: In a hearing school, you don't get to know all the students well. But here at the Deaf school, it is more like a family because you get to know everybody well.

MINDY JO: In some ways (being a smaller school) limits us, because there are not enough people to take certain courses, so we won't have the courses.

ANU: I feel like I missed out on Girl Scouts. I wasn't able to do anything like that because we didn't have that. The first year, we had an interpreter and then after the second year, she was gone.


ANU: I feel like I really socialize with the Deaf community and am really involved in the Deaf community. But at the same time, I still feel the big scheme of things out there. It's a little different because of the cultural differences, but I feel like I could be involved in other things.

JASON: Sometimes I feel like I might be left out because I am Deaf, and that's frustrating. But once I identify myself as having a little bit of hearing or that I can use my speech, then I can get involved. But sometimes if you identify yourself strictly as a Deaf person, then you can't get in.

ANU: From time to time, if I want to do something, they say, "Oh, you can't do that 'cause you're Deaf." I say, "Yeah, I can. I have done it before."

AMANDA: We went to one school (for a basketball game) and I thought they were really putting us down and looking at us because we were Deaf. They were giving us the idea that we were handicapped. We are Deaf, that's all.

ANU: Some things aren't quite fair, like going to a movie. Once a month, they do caption a movie here in town. That's once a month we can go to a movie.

JASON: Most of the time what happens when hearing people get together with Deaf people is hearing people tend to be real passive. They won't interact or even try. I wish they would move forward and meet us halfway - try to get to know us.

ANU: I do feel limited in (career possibilities). Hopefully, those limitations will be taken away as time goes along and they realize that Deaf people are just like anybody else. The only difference is that we can't hear.

Reporters: Andrew Clark, 11; Kelly Cronin, 12; Megan Mercer, 13; and Victoria Sahm, 13.

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