Opinion | The University of Iowa must continue to improve the ASL program

While the program supports students and faculty, there are notable ways in which it can improve the environment it provides for blind and deaf members of the community.


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Ally Pronina, Opinions Columnist

This week is Helen Keller and Deafness and Blindness Awareness week, making it timely to discuss what the University of Iowa can do to make its campus a more inclusive place for students and faculty who are blind or deaf. While it is possible for them to succeed at the UI, listening to their needs would create an even more accommodating environment.

Robert Vizzini is a lecturer for the UI American Sign Language Program. He said he does not go out much, but would if more people knew sign language.

Like everyone else, people who communicate using sign language deserve to be able to go out in public and feel comfortable socializing. The University of Iowa can help them achieve this by extending the ASL Program to hire more people with PhDs and offer a bachelor’s degree. This has been talked about with the Board of Regents.

“They are trying to help, but it takes time,” Vizzini said.

It’s good the Board of Regents is willing to listen and work with the UI ASL Program. Improving it will expand how widespread sign language is across campus.

Vizzini said there are no interpreter training programs in Iowa. Interpreters often have to be brought in from other states and cities, which costs more than if they were local.

More funding for the ASL Program can give it the ability to offer an interpreter training program, helping people who need interpreters by making them more available in Iowa City.

It also would make interpreters who have gone through the interpreter examination more available versus temporary ones who have yet to be tested. Vizzini said he prefers the former because they understand him and translate better.

Rebecca Clark, another lecturer for the UI ASL Program, said it is possible to learn ASL without taking any courses through public conversation hours made available to everyone. This can help students become more culturally aware of the blind and deaf community by giving them a chance to interact with people from it.

Clark also said the university should have interpreters present at university events even if nobody requests it. While it might not be difficult to request an interpreter through Student Disability Services, students who are deaf or blind would appreciate it if the university automatically provided one. It would make them feel appreciated, valued, and welcomed.

Timothy Sheets, a lecturer at the UI ASL Program, is blind and deaf. Sometimes, he needs students to tell him when someone has a hand raised or is not paying attention.

“I feel like I really rely on the students and other people in the room to help me out,” said Sheets.

He hopes a Support Service Provider will be provided and was going to talk to the university about it before COVID-19. An SSP would be a person with him in the room who would set up a map on his back and signal to him who is speaking and what emotions are being portrayed.

Like all professors, Sheets deserves to feel in charge of and independent in the classroom. An SSP would help him do so.

All the people interviewed said the best way to increase cultural awareness of blindness and deafness is having more faculty and students on campus with the conditions. Clark said she would love to see faculty who are deaf or blind in other departments. The first step toward that is creating an as accommodating environment as possible.

Vizzini’s and Sheets’ stories show it is possible for people who are blind or deaf to find success on campus, as long as the needed accommodations are provided. They said so far, most of the accommodations they needed have been provided. Student Disability Services should try its best to provide needed accommodations for students who are blind or deaf. The key to continue the inclusion of people who are blind or deaf is to listen to, be considerate of, ask about, and empathize with their needs.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.