The pillow shakes itself, and another day of academic challenge awaits USU deaf students
By Valerie Vaughan
It's 7 a.m. For most students at USU the curtains are tightly drawn, sealing any opening that would allow rays of sunlight into the dark, damp room. Beep. Beep. Beep. The sound of the mangled alarm clock breaks the silence. In minutes for some, hours for others, the student rolls out of bed and faces the day.
Kelli Marchant doesn't hear the piercing beeps or the pipes rattle as the neighbor showers.
Her dark room is automatically filled with light, off and on, off and on. Instead of an un- welcomed buzz, Marchant's pillow begins to shake, a morning ritual that she dreads. Her roommate hears a vibrating buzz coming from beneath the pillow, a silent buzz to Marchant.
The curtains are wide open welcoming the first sunlight. The warm, piercing rays act as a third method to rouse Marchant from a deep sleep.
Marchant is one of 27 deaf students attending Utah State University. She is also a client of the Disability Resource Center on campus, which provides interpreters for her classes.
The DRC's mission is "to provide supportive services to qualified individuals so they may participate equally in academic, employment, social and cultural opportunities available at Utah State University."
Part of the DRC support is interpreter services for the deaf. Interpreters attend class with deaf students and translate lectures into sign language. Interpreters are also available for other University-sponsored programs and events.
Cameron White, an interpreter for USU, feels his experience has been good overall. "There are some cool deafies in Logan," he said.
White has gained a new perspective through his interaction with the deaf community.
"Everything revolved around hearing until I was introduced to the deaf community," he said.
"Now I know what it is like to function in a world without sound. I have learned how to use other senses to get information."
Interpreters face several challenges. The pay for interpreters is lower at USU than anywhere else in Utah. USU also struggles in areas that institutions like Brigham Young University does not. For instance, the DRC was not given one of its major grants this year, making it difficult to bring in qualified interpreters. Usually, interpreters are level two certified. At USU level one and provisionary interpreters are sometimes used.
Pay for interpreters in Utah as a whole is lower than other areas of the country. White makes $10 an hour at USU. If he were to interpret in San Francisco, he could be paid up to $60 an hour.
Despite the challenges of money and experience, USU has good interpreter services that provide deaf students the opportunity learn and interact with other students on campus. The DRC homepage (http://www.usu.edu/~drc/index.html) introduces Alicia, a student at USU who is hearing impaired. She attended a junior college before coming to USU.
"They have the best programs here," she said, comparing what USU and the junior college offer. "At the junior college I had to find my own interpreters, note takers and tutors." At USU, an interpreter coordinator does that for her.
Marchant's situation is different from most deaf students. Her parents allowed her to decide whether she wanted to attend a public school or a school for the deaf.
"I am glad I went to a hearing school. I have more of an advantage in the hearing world than deaf people do that go to a deaf school."
When Marchant came to USU she was prepared for classes where the professor spoke instead of signed. Marchant has also gained strength from her learning experience in high school.
"In high school I learned how to go the extra mile and get good grades," she said. "I was prepared for college because I knew what it would take to go the extra mile. A lot of students struggle with that and aren't prepared for college. I already knew what the struggles would be and knew it wouldn't be easy."
Marchant's biggest struggle has been learning vocabulary. To compensate, she reads ahead in her text books and learns words that she is not familiar with. At times Marchant doesn't understand certain signs, but she is working on improving her American Sign Language.
"I consider myself to be just like everybody else. There are things that hearing students miss too. I just have to put forth a little extra effort."
Marchant hasn't always been deaf. In kindergarten, her teachers detected a slight speech problem and recommended she see a speech therapist. Along with speech therapy, the therapist taught Marchant how to lip read. He also gave her a book about sign language which she used to teach herself.
"I was prepared at an early age for what was to come," she said.
In the third grade, Marchant experienced her first trial with hearing loss. It was a bright winter day. The snow glistened with tiny ice crystals reflecting the early morning rays of sunlight. The Marchant family decided to enjoy the freshly fallen snow near their home in Beaver, Utah. Marchant and her sister were riding a tube together. It began to accelerate as it slid across the crystal white surface. A bump in their path was unavoidable. Their heads clashed. The sisters were startled at first by the impact, but laughed about it, shook off their dizziness and headed back up the hill. At the top of the hill Marchant realized something was wrong.
"I looked around and I saw everybody laughing and talking, but there was nothing coming out of their mouths," she said.
Her father rushed her to the nearest hospital where doctors diagnosed her with symptoms of high altitude. But, after three days, her hearing had not returned. A hearing specialist in Salt Lake City determined that the accident had caused permanent hearing loss. She was fitted with a hearing aid and was able to hear 70 to 80 percent of sounds.
"At that time I didn't worry about what the other kids thought," Marchant remembers. "I was OK and that was all that mattered."
Three years later, Marchant was attending a girls' camp. She was standing on a log talking with friends when the log rolled and Marchant fell off. She tumbled backward hitting her head on the log. Once again she looked around and couldn't hear people talking or laughing.
She had been through this before, she knew what was wrong and she was scared. She was taken to the hearing specialist once again and found that she could hear only 40 percent of the sounds around her with a hearing aid in place.
Through additional speech therapy and support from her family, Marchant adjusted to being hard-of-hearing. In high school, she became a cheerleader. She was the back guard for stunts. During a routine, one of her squad members was thrown in the air, but the other members were not ready to catch her. Marchant saw her teammate tumbling out of control and knew it was her responsibility to catch her. Marchant caught the cheerleader, but was knocked over and her fellow squad member landed on top of her head.
Pieces of a shattered hearing aid scattered across the gym floor. For Marchant, the room fell silent. Mouths moved and people rushed to her aid. But it was quiet. She tried to focus on objects in the gymnasium, but couldn't. The accident left her completely deaf.
Marchant remembers how difficult it was for her to adjust to being deaf. She learned to talk all over again but was fortunate that she learned to read lips at an early age.
Adjusting to a social life without sound was difficult for Marchant. At one point, she was ashamed to have a hearing aid and would take it out so the boys at school wouldn't see it.
"The hardest thing was hanging out with friends," she recalled. "I would constantly ask them to repeat what they were saying. I would try to force myself to laugh and convince myself that I was having fun, even when I wasn't."
Marchant wasn't treated any differently by her family. Her childhood at home was normal. But her family experienced frustrations as well.
"I wasn't the only one that struggled with it, my family did as well," she said. "They had to stomp their feet to get my attention. When we fought, I always won. If I didn't want to talk about it, I would just turn my head and their was nothing my brothers and sisters could do. It would make them mad."
Marchant's family contributed to her success as a student at USU.
"It really helps to have good role models in your life to keep you up
on your feet," she said.