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September 29, 2004

Turning a blind eye to limits

From: The Gamecock, SC - Sep 29, 2004

By LaDonna Beeker

USC American Sign Language teacher Andrea Johnson does not let her disability keep her from enjoying life.

Johnson has been at USC since August and is a teacher's assistant for the deaf education class at Crayton Middle School, but has been teaching ASL for five years. She previously taught at the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind in the Outreach Department and as an ASL tutor.

"I like to teach students how to sign, but I enjoy the social interaction with the wide range of students from beginning to advance levels," Johnson said through an interpreter. While she teaches more hearing students than deaf students, it does not add difficulty to her teaching ability.

"South Carolina needs interpreters, so I hope they learn sign language and maybe one day become interpreters."

Sign language is not a major at USC, but Johnson hopes that will change. The class she teaches counts as an elective. One of her students, third-year nursing student Katie Arnold, said she is looking for another school to transfer to so she can major in sign language and interpretation.

"I thought about (being an interpreter) a long time ago, but by taking this class made me think more about it," Arnold said. "The idea that she is deaf helps me use sign more because it is the only way to communicate with her."

Johnson is on the South Carolina Association of the Deaf board as secretary and treasurer. She spends most of her time helping out the deaf by attending meetings to discuss deaf rights in the work place and by being an interpreter. Johnson also helps with the association's newsletter and Web site, where they are writing a mission statement for the association.

It was difficult for Johnson growing up because she lived with her mother, who did not know sign language until Johnson was in middle school.

"It was hard to communicate with my mother because I had to write to her," Johnson said. "I said 'finally' when she learned how to sign."

Johnson used to have to wear a hearing aid attached to her body that she said she absolutely hated.

She did not know sign language until she was 6 years old when she began to attend the Texas School for the Deaf. Johnson said she believes most of her success comes from the accomplishments she made in school. She was on the honor roll and was class secretary, dorm president and salutatorian. This is also where Johnson learned how to lip read.

Johnson said her biggest influence was one of her deaf teachers in school, Franna Camenisch, "because she influenced me to write English, go to college and to be a leader."

Johnson married her husband, Chris, five years ago. Chris is a Columbia native, which is the reason Johnson moved to South Carolina.

Johnson said she is thinking of going to graduate school for linguistics, but meanwhile, she will continue to teach ASL and do what she loves, including taking landscape and portrait pictures.

© 2004 The Gamecock