A Year In The Life of A Deaf Student: New School, New Challenges

I recently wrote an article about Julia’s graduation from high school. Now, with that major milestone behind her, it was time to focus on the next chapter: Getting ready for college. We decided to move from Austin, TX to the Hampton Roads area of Virginia to be closer to Hampton University’s campus in order to help Julia. Since Julia is deaf and has cerebral palsy, we knew that she would need certain accommodations to help her succeed in college. After she was accepted and confirmed her desire to attend, we contacted the University’s Office of Compliance and Disability Services (Disability Services) to discuss accommodations for Julia.

The Office Director told us what we needed to provide, including required medical support documents, to get the process started. We were delayed a bit in gathering some of the medical information because of a procedure that Julia was already scheduled for (right after graduation and our pending move). The doctor and one of the therapist wanted to include the results and post-procedure recommendations in their write-ups for the University, so we just decided to just carry the application with us to Virginia and deliver it in person.

After the move, we were able to drop off the package at Hampton, and then we got settled into our new home. A few weeks after submitting the package, we had an opportunity to go to campus and meet with the University’s Vice President for Administration and Student Affairs. Since my wife is a Hampton Alum, and this Vice President oversees the Disability Services program, we thought that it would be a good idea for her to meet Julia. During the meeting, she welcomed Julia to Hampton and as a result of our discussion, promised to check into the status of our accommodations package and get back to us. True to her word, we received a call from Disability Services shortly thereafter giving us an update on the University’s activities (especially her assigned dorm room) in support of Julia’s request. All seemed to be going well, and we spent the rest of the summer preparing Julia for her first year at Hampton.

Before we knew it, it was the second week in August and time for Julia to begin Freshman Orientation. A few weeks before, Julia received a letter inviting her to join the Freshman Honors Program. She decided to accept so the week before orientation, we went to campus to drop off some information with the program office. While on campus, we decided to see if we could get a peek at her new dorm room. Fortunately, we bumped into the Dorm Director and she happily let us in to see Julia’s room. We saw all of the modifications that were in place for her, and I must say, we were pleased.

On the first day of orientation, all incoming freshmen moved into their dorm rooms. During the move in, we found out that things were not working out so great when it came to her accommodations for being deaf. As part of the parent orientation program, my wife and I attended a meeting with representatives from the Business and Registrar’s Offices. During the meeting, they discussed the breakdown of student tuition for each semester. My wife and I looked at each other when they said that there was a charge for a telephone connection for each dorm room. After the meeting, we introduced ourselves to the University’s Chief Financial Officer and asked why Julia had this charge on her bill (since deaf people don’t use regular telephones). She said that this was a standard charge. When we pressed her further, she said that the phone needed to be in the room in case another person needed to use the phone while in her room. Huh?

Things only got more interesting from there. We later found out that Julia was approved for having American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreters but only for in-class activities and University “mandatory events.” During orientation week, there were several activities on the calendar that the University didn’t view as mandatory and thus did not provide an interpreter (including her first dorm meeting which the Dorm Director said was mandatory). Since we were already on campus, my wife decided to go with Julia to the dorm meeting to interpret for her. While we both know ASL, we are not certified interpreters, so we are not as proficient as a professional. During the meeting, the Dorm Director and staff shared critical information (including dorm policies and safety procedures by campus police) that Julia would have missed had her Mom not been able to attend.

For the rest of the week, there were meetings such new student seminars, academic advisement and registration, financial clearance, and of course the President’s Welcome Address for students and parents, that the University considered mandatory and for which interpreters were provided. Other events such as one on one meetings with offices such as Student Support Services (where she could receive tutoring support), or social events that were designed for new students to get to know one another, were deemed non-essential and thus no interpreters were provided.

While we did have some pleasant surprises (her dorm room accommodations, the level of cooperation from the dining hall staff, and the willingness of campus security to learn some basic sign language), my wife and I were not satisfied with the level of accommodations provided, particularly related to communications access. The goal is to make sure that any student with any sort of “disability” has the same type of college experience as anyone else. We knew that being the first deaf student on campus would not be easy, so it looks like we will be keeping a closer eye on the University than we thought.

Next Week: Classes Begin and More Problems Arise

Previous Post: Deciding To Attend Hampton

Originally published at deafdisabledparentproject.com on February 18, 2019.

I write on the topic of Dad Leadership. For more information, please visit my website http://DadLeadership.com.

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