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October 29, 2003

Hands-on communication

From: Northern Star Online - Oct 29, 2003

Deaf students cope with a quiet world

Article by: Greg Feltes - Features Reporter

Todd Weimer may have lost his hearing when he was born, but he ended up gaining much more.

“I think everything about being deaf has been great,” the senior physical education major said via e-mail. “It’s a part of who I am, and it has made me the person I am today.”

Weimer is part of NIU’s growing deaf population. About 50 hearing-disabled students currently are enrolled at NIU, with that number expected to grow as enrollment continues to increase.

Jane Flowers, a senior deaf rehabilitation counseling major, said she feels more accepted now than she did as a child.

“When I was young, people did treat me differently, because they didn’t know much about deafness, especially since I am came from a small town,” she said via an interpreter. “People would move their mouths in a very slow, exaggerated way. Now, more and more people are aware of deaf culture. It’s better now than it was before.”

Senior English major Rebecca Gehrke said her typical day is similar to those of most other students.

“Every night before I go to bed, the last thing I do is take out my hearing aids,” she said via e-mail. “When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is put them back in. Since I hear nothing without my hearing aids, I have a special alarm clock called a Shake Awake. It’s a regular clock with an attachment that sits in my pillow case and shakes me awake instead of making noise.

“I also have interpreters in the majority of my classes and am fluent in sign language. Whenever I watch TV or movies, I use closed captioning or subtitles. In general, I think my life is very normal and I am very involved and do things that most people do, regardless of hearing.”

Senior communication major Mark Gresholdt said most students he encounters on campus are comfortable with interacting with someone who is hearing-disabled.

“There are two different sides that I have noticed with meeting new people,” he said via e-mail. “Mostly, I will meet people who are very friendly and have the courage to talk with me. Also, they will know how to communicate with me right away, because they will realize that I can speak and read lips, which I mainly depend on in my communication with other people ... Sometimes, I can tell when I meet new people that they feel uncomfortable coming up to me, but once we talk they feel comfortable.”

Flowers said each deaf person’s personality is distinctive.

“Every deaf person is very different,” she said. “They have unique personalities. They have new, unique social experiences. Some people can hear well. Some people socialize with hearing people. Don’t assume a person can’t hear anything or is inept in some way. Treat each person as a unique individual.”

For example, Flowers said she loves to send instant messages and paint, while Gehrke prefers scrap-booking, reading and writing. Weimer and Gresholdt are training for the next Deaflympics.

All four can hear music to a certain extent because of hearing aids. Flowers occasionally will turn up the bass and listen to the Dixie Chicks, while Gresholdt prefers dance music.

Despite a curiosity about what it would be like to have complete hearing, Flowers, Gehrke, Gresholdt and Weimer all said they would turn down the chance to fix their hearing completely, even if there was a fool-proof surgery to do so.

“Most of the deaf community have no problem with it and see deafness as a part of their lives,” Weimer said. “I would never do something like that.”

Gehrke agreed.

“While it might be nice to be able to hear without hearing aids, I would not have the surgery because being deaf is the only thing I've ever known,” she said, “and it's a huge part of who I am.”

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