David Simmons

Julie Kim, communication sciences and disorders senior, uses sign language at the College of Liberal Arts Building on Wednesday.

Photo Credit: Ellyn Snider | Daily Texan Staff

American Sign Language professors discussed ways in which deaf and hard of hearing students can get involved on campus at the Julius Glickman Conference Center on Wednesday.

The event, which was the second annual meet-and-greet for deaf and hard of hearing students, takes place in September, which holds Deaf Awareness Week.

According to linguistics lecturer David Simmons, there are more than 60 hearing-impaired students on campus and 10 faculty and staff. Simmons said Austin is the second-largest deaf populated city in the United States with roughly 70,000 deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

The event allowed deaf and hard of hearing students to eat snacks and mingle with each other. Students majoring in deaf education also attended to become more familiar with ASL. 

As the ASL program in the Department of Linguistics continues to grow, Simmons said he hopes the event will flourish and provide students with a connection to their community.

“It’s a good way to bond,” Simmons said. 

Exercise science senior Christy Hediger said she often finds it difficult to meet other hearing impaired students on such a large campus.

“I think it’s really cool because most of us never get to meet each other,” Hediger said. “We’re a really small community, so it’s nice to get to know each other.” 

Additional networking opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing students include joining the college bowl team, which competes against other schools in a trivia game at the National Association of the Deaf conference, UT alumna Lisa Guerra said at the event. Guerra graduated with her bachelor’s in history last year and competed in the college bowl team when she attended UT.

“We compete in different categories like language, arts, deaf culture, mathematics, science and so many more,” Guerra said through a translator. “I learned a lot about my own identity while learning about deaf culture. You can meet anyone.”

Deaf education junior Amy Mulkey attended the event to further her knowledge in ASL and said she hopes to immerse herself in the culture. 

“I’ve met a lot of friends through this, which has been wonderful,” Mulkey said. “I automatically fell in love with [ASL].”

Lisa Guerra and Rogelio Fernandez converse using sign language at the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Meet-and-Greet event. 

Photo Credit: Shweta Gulati | Daily Texan Staff

Of the 54 Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) students currently attending UT, only a few have ever had the chance to interact with each other — but DHH students and Services for Students with Disabilities are working to change that. 

Dozens of DHH students met for the first time at an informal meet-and-greet dinner Tuesday.

Lauren Kinast, associate director for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services, said she noticed the lack of unification among DHH students shortly after her arrival on campus.

“I often have students asking, ‘How many DHH students are there here at UT?’ and ‘Where do I find them? How do I meet them?’ [and] this is one way we hope to bring them together,” Kinast said. 

Plan II senior Duggan Baker planned the event in conjunction with David Simmons, a linguistics lecturer who teaches sign language. Baker said he wanted to connect with a larger community.

“I became deaf right when I was born,” Baker said. “I grew up going to school with hearing students, but when I came to college I had a little trouble adjusting. I was quiet, and I didn’t want to have to explain my deafness to everyone.” 

DHH students like Baker have formed small groups like SignHorns, a Facebook page designed to connect students to the deaf community on campus and in Austin. Students can also participate in College Bowl — an academic competition hosted by the National Association of the Deaf. 

History senior Lisa Guerra, a College Bowl contestant, said her experience with the competition opened up more opportunities for her to socialize and make friends on campus.

“It was like a culture shock for me,” Guerra said. “I had never seen so many deaf people all in one place, signing and communicating.” 

Still, Simmons said many students have yet to get involved or find a sense of community.

“DHH students still feel very isolated and invisible on campus,” Simmons said. “We are looking to improve the quality of life for them.”

At the meet-and-greet dinner, linguistics department Chair Richard Meier said the department is working on several new initiatives related to DHH students, including adding an American Sign Language minor. 

Baker said he hopes to hold more informal events in the future and to eventually unite all DHH students on campus.