Hearing Impaired Employee Works to Change Stereotypes
Athens, W. Va. - There is silence within the world and some individuals experience this silence every waking minute of their lives. How can a person aspire to be successful when facing a life-altering disability such as being hearing-impaired? It is not impossible; just ask Keith Simmerman, Concord College information systems specialist. Simmerman refused to merely accept his handicap; he rose above it.
Simmerman was born deaf and grew up in Beckley, W.Va., where he attributed his early education to his two favorite teachers who were proficient in sign language. After attending Woodrow Wilson High School he transferred to the Model Secondary School for the Deaf in Washington, D.C. From there he moved on to Gallaudet University, which he chose because it allowed for better visible communication with professors using sign language instead of the traditional interpreters. There he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science, also participating in extracurricular activities, fraternities and various social organizations. At Gallaudet, Simmerman learned many social skills, training himself in enhancing his ability to communicate to those with and without a hearing impairment.
One of the most significant moments of his life happened at Gallaudet with Simmerman transforming himself into a “radical” as he was an activist hoping to make an impact on the way that individuals without hearing loss viewed deafness. Simmerman participated in a protest now known as DPN or Deaf President Now. The protest began when students, faculty and staff of the University felt it was time the institution had a hearing-impaired president. However, when the Board of Trustees elected Elisabeth Zinser, a candidate with no disability, students, faculty and staff effectively shut down the college. More than 3,000 university students, elementary students, and high school students from the University’s pre-college programs, along with staff, faculty, alumni and members from the local deaf community participated in a protest rally. It was during the next four days the campaign became a multimedia event garnering both local and national media coverage.
By the end of the week, Dr. I. King Jordan was named Gallaudet’s eighth president, and the first to be deaf.
Gallaudet University, a liberal arts institution has 2,500 deaf and hard of hearing students with 300 hearing graduate degree students. (As a comparison, Concord College has 2,800 students.)
As a result of the protests in 1988, and similar activism elsewhere, several acts were passed to protect the deaf and hearing-impaired community. The acts included the Telecommunications Accessibility Enhancement Act, which required that the national telecommunications system be fully accessible to the deaf, hard of hearing, and speech-impaired individuals. This act was followed by the Television Decoder Circuitry Act which required that all televisions with a screen 13 inches or greater be equipped with a built-in decoder chip to display closed captions. Among these acts, however, the most prominent act passed was the Americans with Disabilities Act. It was passed in 1990 to ensure that all deaf and hearing-impaired individuals are protected from discrimination in almost every aspect of their lives including occupation, legal issues and government policy.
Simmerman came to Concord in 2000 and has gained valuable life experience working with students. At first, he was overwhelmed, with the majority of students addressing him awkwardly, or sometimes not at all. New students, who relied on his technical skills to install the Internet in campus rooms, simply did not communicate well with him due to a lack of knowledge about hearing impairment, but Simmerman strives daily to work toward improved techniques for communication. Now, he uses a note pad and pencil so that students can write notes, which allows them to feel more comfortable communicating with him. He also uses e-mail and “IM” (instant messaging).
There are two people at Concord who facilitate communications for Simmerman during lectures or events: Dr. Kathy Hawks, assistant professor of education and South Towers Resident Director, Abe Lilly, both have the ability of level three sign language interpretation skills.
In his efforts to create a positive change and denounce stereotypes of those with a disability, he believes education is fundamental. He will serve as a consultant for businesses or organizations to increase awareness about deafness and deflate the stereotypes surrounding the disability. “I’ll even teach a little sign language to those who are interested,” Simmerman stated with a twinkle in his eye.
In regard to communication with deaf people Simmerman has a few pointers. He says, “Simplicity is his primary tip for communication. It would be helpful if hearing people would, if necessary, repeat things so it can be understood. Keep things simple and talk normally. Don’t slow down to one letter at a time, but if you talk fast, slow down a bit. This will help communication.”
Simmerman, in his days as a “radical” and currently at Concord actively seeks to change stereotypes. He wants to emphasize that having a handicap does not limit a person’s ability to carry out social or occupational functions. Simmerman wants to change the world by changing beliefs, and is proceeding to lead by example. He says, “Deaf people can do anything except hear.” He is living proof of that statement and is an example of how one individual in any environment, whether it is academically, occupationally, or socially can make a difference in the fight for true equality.
For information on attending Concord call 1-888-384-5249 or 1-304-384-5248 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
CONCORD COLLEGE NOTES: Jessica Taylor, a student in Concord College’s English Department wrote this press release. Her hometown is Beckley, W.Va. She is majoring in English/Writing with a minor in journalism. Her anticipated graduation date is May 2004.