Lakeland breaks deaf stereotypes

Published 10:05 pm Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Carol Holland, Leigh Dale, Tavon Walker, Chad Stubenrauch, Sarah Timmins, Matt Means and (front) Kristen Bender, American Sign Language students at Lakeland High School, take part in recent activities to raise awareness about challenges faced by deaf people.

Students at Lakeland High School participated in a range of activities during October to mark National Disability Awareness Month, learning that deaf people can be as successful as anyone else.

During morning announcements in the last week of October, a PowerPoint presentation was shown about deaf movie stars, professional athletes and other successful people, American Sign Language teacher Anita Fisher said.

Fisher says she has a combined 153 students in her ASL I, II and III classes. Most ASL I students take it “because they have taken another foreign language and didn’t like it or thought it was too hard,” Fisher said.

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“So they take ASL because (they think) it will be easy — until they start the class and realize that ASL is a foreign language just like the other foreign languages. Some ASL I students are actually interested and do quite well. My ASL II and III students really like it, and some want to use it as a career.”

Lakeland ASL III students also made posters based on what they had learned about deaf people, designed to educate other students about what the hearing impaired are capable of, Fisher said.

Fisher interviewed the students afterward, and their answers, she said, suggested that the awareness campaign had a positive impact.

Chad Stubenrauch, according to Fisher, said he is “honestly sick” of the stereotyping of deaf people.

“Deaf people are just like us; they can communicate,” he added. “Yes they have a disability, but it doesn’t make anybody different from anyone else. Just look at Stephen Hawking; he can’t move, but he was one of the most brilliant minds of the 21st century.”

Kristen Bender commented that people “don’t realize that there is a deaf culture. I want to express what many people don’t know about and to show the world that this is a culture that is meaningful also.”

Matthew Means responded that he “didn’t want people to think that being deaf is a disability, but that it is basically what makes you unique.”

Being deaf isn’t a hindrance, he argued, adding, “We are all ‘normal.’”

Fisher has been teaching ASL for 10 years. “I want my students to realize that deaf people are the same as we are,” she said. “They just use a different language.”

Fishers’ students are also putting together a sign language production of “The Night Before Christmas.”

Four performances are planned for Suffolk elementary schools: Nansemond Parkway at 9:30 a.m. and Booker T. Washington at 1 p.m. on Dec. 19, and Northern Shores at 9:30 a.m. and Florence Bowser at 1 p.m. on Dec. 20.