When Angela Graves converses with her students, there is no sound. There is only mouthing of words and movement of hands.
They communicate by their own language — sign language.
Graves is the Disability Services’ first deaf services coordinator, starting her position in July 2012. Plans are to hire another interpreter for the fall semester.
As a certified sign language interpreter, Graves works with deaf and hard-of-hearing students registered at the office. Before the position’s creation, the office contracted with an interpreter each time a student needed interpreting support. The new position reduces the office’s cost and offers better support for students, Graves said. “Deaf and hard-of-hearing students will find [MU] a more friendly place to come,” she said. “There is somebody on staff that’s specifically for them.”
Graves has always been fascinated by sign language, even though she wasn’t raised around anyone who was deaf. Her curiosity and passion led her to study deaf communication at St. Louis Community College in Florissant, Mo., after earning a bachelor’s in psychology at Truman State University. After earning her state certification in 2001, she worked in positions in St. Louis and Jefferson City as an interpreter.
At MU, Graves performs sign language in classrooms, coordinates services for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, and fulfills special requests for her skills from departments. She works with about 20 students.
Graves doesn’t have time to sign for every deaf student, so the office also works with two local interpreting agencies.
Maxwell Murch is an MU senior working with Graves. Born deaf, Murch started receiving the necessary services when he came to the university more than two years ago. He is currently being helped in classes by a note taker and an interpreter. He has had an interpreter for almost every class at MU. During exams, he usually has an interpreter in the same room in case he has questions for the instructor.
“My college life would have been really different without these services,” Murch signed. “The services I get are fantastic. I definitely recommend getting help from [the office].”
Sign language isn’t all Graves does for hearing-challenged students. She also works with visual communication methods, such as a captioning system.
Captioning is usually used in classrooms for students unfamiliar with American Sign Language. Graves said that if a student prefers captioning to sign language, she and the student discuss what type of captioning works best for him or her.
The real-time captioning process is called CART, or Communication Access Realtime Translation. In a classroom, CART works by having instructors fitted with a microphone paired to a deaf student’s laptop. A certified stenographer working remotely connects to the audio stream and creates the captions, which appear on the student’s computer screen.
“It’s a fluid process,” Graves said.
Captioning is also provided for large audiences, such as at ceremonies and lectures. In May 2012, captioning was used for the first time at an MU graduation ceremony. Two widescreens left and right of the stage showed the black-lettered captions.
The Disability Services is hoping to hire another part-time interpreter for the fall semester. Graves said that the office wants to grow the “pool of interpreters” to cover the needs of not only students, but also the university’s departments and programs, such as services for University Hospital.
“Personally, I’d also like to see the graduation ceremonies routinely captioned or interpreted,” she said. “Having more interpreters would provide [better] access for graduates and their families on their big day.”
“With the creation of my position and the existence of our entire office, there is a support system here as well as the accommodations available for students to be successful,” Graves said.
— JeongAn Choi