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November 24, 2003

A Small World

The Shorthorn, TX - Nov 24, 2003

One deaf student plans to contribute to the hearing-impaired community as a volunteer and role model for children

By Beth Francesco
The Shorthorn staff

Eddie Bart wakes up every day, hits the snooze button and tries to get 10 more minutes of sleep.

It’s not a beeping alarm he hears, though. Instead, the English senior wakes to a party in his room: a strobe light attached to his alarm that flashes to alert him it’s time for school.

Bart, one of 24 deaf or hearing-impaired students at the university, says his life isn’t any different than a hearing person’s. He volunteers and goes to school — even finds time to visit comic book conventions.

But he’s part of a “frustrating” world many hearing people don’t understand and often misinterpret, he said. The deaf culture, which he said he is trying to become more involved in, is best described as tight knit.

“The deaf world is a very small world,” said Bart, 27, via instant messenger software. “There are usually less than six degrees of separation between deaf people.”

Changing plans

It’s also a world that means making changes. Bart, who lives in Arlington with his family, earned an associate’s degree at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, N.Y., before transferring to UTA in 2001 to study filmmaking. He changed his major to English after losing the motivation to break into the seemingly unbreakable industry.

“The other reason is sort of linked to the previous reason,” he said. “The industry is hard enough to break into as a hearing person. It’s even more difficult as a deaf person.”

Starting as a production assistant, he offered, would be difficult because the job includes tasks such as answering the producer’s cell phone and getting coffee when told.

“Take two people with the equal amount of skills and talent, one hearing and one deaf,” Bart said. “The hearing person will just be preferred since he or she can do a few extra chores that a deaf person will have a harder time doing.”

Such major changes are less common than the day-to-day adaptations that become frustrating. Bart, for example, attended “Wizard World Texas,” a comic book convention that took place Saturday and Sunday at the Arlington Convention Center. At first, though, he wasn’t sure how he would communicate with people.

“I’m not sure if I will have interpreters for the convention,” he said in an interview last week. “If I do, it will most likely be limited to Q&As and presentations. ... I doubt I will be able to have an interpreter with me on the floor while meeting writers and artists.”

It’s a small world, he learned when the university’s former interpreter coordinator, Tammy Raglin, was assigned to the job.

The community/volunteering

The world gets even smaller when you’re talking about the deaf community as a whole, said Stephanie Cline, a 23-year-old deaf studies graduate student at Texas Women’s University. The university is one of three four-year universities in Texas with deaf studies programs. UTA does not have such a program.

“Each person in the deaf community basically knows each other,” she said.

Growing up deaf, Cline depended on that community to help her gain strength and self-assurance.

After graduate school, she wants to attend law school and become an advocate like the ones who have helped her.

Deaf children especially need guidance in learning about their disability, Cline said.

“I want to prove to other deaf children that there is life after high school and that they can do whatever they want to,” she said.

Bart is in a similar position. Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, he volunteers as a teacher’s aide at the Jean Massieu Academy in Arlington. The school for deaf and hearing-impaired children uses American Sign Language as its primary communication.

“As a deaf person with a strong foundation in English and grammar, I want to pass some of that on to deaf children,” he said.

The need for adult role models in the deaf community, Bart said, continues to grow. His studies here have helped him see that. In a project for a children’s literature course, he found 30 books with a theme of deaf characters or issues.

“I read a ‘classic’ which is called I’m Deaf, and That’s Okay!,” he said. “That book bothered me in some respects, particularly the condescending title. But the deaf child in the book came to the realization that he would still be deaf as an adult. He had the logic that since he had never seen a deaf adult, then it must ‘go away’ when you get older.

“I read a few other books and heard from other deaf people, and I suppose that idea does appear in the thinking of deaf children. That shows the need for deaf adult role models, particularly deaf teachers.”

Talking through someone

Bart, though, said he can’t remember not having a role model. As the only deaf person in his family, he said he was fortunate that some of his extended family learned some form of sign language.

That helped when he was growing up, especially when he and his younger sister would play in the community.

“When we were little kids, my sister and I would play with the neighborhood kids,” he said. “My sister would act as an interpreter, which is interesting since she has done this since she was 4 years old.”

Most hearing people are comfortable knowing simple gestures, Cline said, which can get people by in limited daily interaction. But American Sign Language is more complicated.

According to, the language is not derived from a spoken language and is a visual-gestural language incorporating facial grammatical markers, physical affect markers, fingerspelling and the signs themselves. The language uses its own grammar and syntax.

Cline, who is conducting research on how the brain processes English and American Sign Language, said there are notable differences in the two.

“When used as a supplement, ASL helps promote learning,” she said.

Students here with hearing impairments are assigned interpreters through the Office for Students with Disabilities. Each interpreter is qualified with post-secondary education and is licensed by the state, Interpreter Coordinator Amber Mitchell said.

“They’re basically just there to facilitate communication,” she said. “Everything should be directed to the student. They simply facilitate.”

While the interpreter is essentially a “human tool for communication,” Bart said, he usually befriends his learning partner.

“Strictly, the interpreter is supposed to be a non-person — no opinions or voices of their own. But people are people. Interpreters have been a major source of friends throughout my academic life.”

A typical day

That life begins before school starts. Bart wakes throughout the week to his personal disco, although it’s not the only adaptation available.

Alarm alerts can also include a vibration attachment the size of a hockey puck that one puts under a pillow or mattress.

After that, it’s not much different.

“I ... get up, shower, dress, go to school, try to stay awake in class, finish classes for the day, come home, do some homework, surf the ’net and chat with friends on IM, watch TV, play video games, go to bed too late at night and repeat.”

In between, he doesn’t have much need for an interpreter. Trips to the grocery store and talking to friends between classes often require just a notepad and pen. Or, if the conversation needs to be lengthy, he’ll swap instant messenger aliases with friends.

“If anything, [my life is] a little bit more boring than others’ lives — deaf or hearing,” he said. “I don’t know what a typical hearing person’s life is — all I have to go on is what I see on TV and movies, and I know that’s not entirely realistic.”

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