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February 10, 2004

Deaf culture speaks at IU

From: The Indiana Digital Student - Feb 10, 2004

Honors College sponsors program to educate students

By Mallory Simon

Some spoke of the moment they knew they were deaf, of their speech training issues and the schooling problems they encountered along the way. They expressed their feelings about cochlear implants as a solution to hearing problems and voiced their concerns for understanding deaf culture.

"A deaf world is not quiet, deaf people live in a world that is visually noisy."
Amy Cornwell
Clinical assistant professor of ASL

The stories and experiences might not have been directly spoken, but the speakers said plenty at an interactive deaf culture seminar Monday night.

With the help of American Sign Language, teachers from the department of speech and hearing services and student coordinators, Holleh Husseinzadeh and Jenny Hoponick, the program discussed personal experiences, challenges and issues facing the deaf community today.

The program, titled, "Deaf Culture: Living in a World Without Sound," and sponsored by the Honors College, opened with a short introduction where all participants introduced themselves and signed -- or at least attempted to sign, their first names.

The discussion, aimed at educating and interacting with and about sign language and the deaf culture, featured a circle discussion full of finger-spelling, signing and interpreting. For some it was difficult to follow the sign language part of the discussion while giving them a look into the communication of the deaf community.

"A deaf world is not quiet," said Amy Cornwell, clinical assistant professor of ASL. "Deaf people live in a world that is visually noisy."

Clinical Lecturer Wayne Mnich, as well as other speakers, expressed their frustration with the association of hearing and intelligence.

"We might be deaf, but it's not a measure of intelligence," Mnich said.

The discontent with this association is something the deaf community continues to struggle with, according to the speakers, but is something they learn to accept.

"For whatever reason, people always associate being able to hear and talk, and being smart," Cornwell said. "I am sure many of you know people who can speak perfectly clearly, but might still be really stupid. There is no connection between speech and intelligence -- that's just something the deaf community wants recognition about."

The discussion included those who were born deaf, those who have lost their hearing and those whose family members are deaf. "We hope to plant seeds in helping to educate about the deaf community and its culture," said Joseph Murray, clinical lecturer of ASL. "It's important to have respect for those who are deaf and learn to understand them."

Sign language and its acceptance, as well as IU's program, has grown over the years. There are 19 classes per semester and over 400 students with one of the biggest waitlists on campus.

Cornwell said interaction with those who are actually deaf gives the best understanding of the language, as well as the deaf culture. The use of lecturers whose native language is ASL, or have used ASL most of their life, adds an extra dimension to the program.

Although their words might be limited to signs and motions, there is certainly no lack of connection or emotion between those who use ASL. The discussion featured the speakers picking on each other while making jokes and plenty of laughter and fun. The limitation of signing becomes less and less apparent and more natural, fast-paced and commonplace among others who sign to the point where the conversation seems completely natural.

"Why worry about fixing our hearing? What's to fix?" Murray said. "God meant for us to be deaf for a reason. Who's right is it to say there's something wrong with us? That's like us deciding to take away the hearing of people who can. We're okay, we just don't have our hearing."

-- Contact staff writer Mallory Simon at

© 2003 Indiana Daily Student