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June 17, 2010

UC grad seeks to help the deaf community

From: Hamilton Journal News - Jun 17, 2010

By Richard O Jones, Staff Writer

HAMILTON — The hearing world may not think of deaf people as a “minority population,” but Hamilton resident Jennifer Ficker-Halupnik said she faced elements of discrimination, oppression and ignorance from a very young age — and has eagerly fought for understanding and equal access.

Ficker-Halupnik, who is profoundly deaf from birth, recently received her master’s degree in social work from the University of Cincinnati and plans to be an advocate for the deaf, who need to be viewed as a cultural linguistic minority group, not as a medically disabled group, because their primary language — American Sign Language — is visual and spatial, and English is their second language.

“English can be a challenging second language to master for anyone, but without auditory information it can be doubly hard for the deaf,” she said in an e-mail interview. “Deaf people often struggle with English grammar and vocabulary because they do not hear English on a daily basis like hearing people.”

Although she can lip read, that process only gives her about 30 percent of the information.

“I must use contextual and other clues to figure out the message of what is being said,” she said. “This can be very stressful.”

A native of the Walnut Hills neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ficker-Halupnik said that her desire to be an advocate came as she was about to enter high school, where she was the only deaf person in the district. Her middle school teachers had recommended her for advanced placement classes, but her high school counselor discouraged her from taking those courses even though she already proved herself capable.

“The counselor was not supportive of my choice and predicted I would fail,” she said. “My parents always encouraged me to advocate for myself, which I did in order to have access to the education and services I deserved.

“In general, throughout high school and college, if any situations arose due to my hearing loss, or I encountered obstacles to accessibility, I was anxious to jump in and fight for necessary changes.”

Her biggest challenge to being deaf is the isolation of it.

“It takes a while for people to feel comfortable with me,” she said. “They are often tentative and unsure about how to communicate with me.”

And like other minorities, the biggest misconception among hearing people is that deaf people are all the same.

“Like all minority populations, deaf are individuals that deserved to be seen for individual qualities and characteristics,” Ficker-Halupnik said.

Contact this reporter at (513) 820-2188 or

© 2010 Hamilton Journal-News, Hamilton, Ohio, USA.