Here’s how Temple is becoming a deaf-friendly university

Professors discuss how majority deaf institutions compare to Main Campus.


Editor’s Note: This story has been updated at 10:24 a.m. on Nov. 13.

When reflecting on his time at both majority-hearing and majority-deaf institutions, Jonathan Hartmann said the ease and accessibility at majority-deaf institutions was an unrivaled experience.

Hartmann, the director of the American Sign Language certificate program at Temple University, attended both Bucks County Community College and Gallaudet University as an undergraduate.

Bucks is a majority-hearing college in the Philadelphia suburbs, while Gallaudet is a majority-deaf and hard-of-hearing university in Washington, D.C.

“I could talk to everybody and I didn’t have to go through anybody with an interpreter,” Hartmann said about his time at Gallaudet University. “It was just direct contact with everybody.”

Hearing students are accustomed to initiating or overhearing quick verbal exchanges and small talk, but deaf and hard-of-hearing students may be unable to engage in these things in all-hearing environments.

“I really had to force myself to leave [Gallaudet] because it was so wonderful,” Hartmann said.

At Bucks County Community College, he said there were few accommodations for deaf students, and he struggled to make friends. His professor was also his interpreter, and he had little conversational accessibility with the hearing students.

Aaron Spector, the director of the Disability Resource and Services at Temple, wrote in an email to The Temple News that DRS works to accommodate deaf students and faculty.  

“If any member of the campus community makes us aware of a barrier to access, we will try to work with the appropriate departments on campus to remove the barrier or to find ways to accommodate individuals who are impacted by that barrier,” Spector wrote.

“It’s a whole different quality of life to have that kind of accessibility and language and communication with everybody,” said Dana Zeuggin, an instructor in the ASL program.

Zeuggin also attended a majority-deaf and hard-of-hearing institution called the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, which is part of the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. 

Both NTID and Gallaudet provide resources and technology to assist students and faculty outside of the realm of ASL, including videophones. 

A videophone is a phone that relays both audio and visual messages. These are used by the deaf community for phone calls and often utilize a relay service that acts as a mediator. The deaf caller signs to an interpreter, who then translates and relays an audio message back to the hearing recipient.

Videophones and other assistive technology can be requested at Temple, and the federal government provides free videophone calling to deaf citizens. 

Safety alerts are another form of technology that may need to be altered to accommodate the deaf community. About two years ago, Hartmann’s fire alarm did not have a visual component, like a flashing light. If his students had not notified him of the alarm, he never would’ve had known it was going off. 

“I was in a classroom teaching, [and] the students were raising their hand, ‘There’s a fire alarm going off.’ I’m like, ‘Come on, I don’t see anything!’” Hartmann said. “There was no visual alarm.” 

Hartmann added that a visual alarm was later put in place.

“In the case of a visual fire alarm not working, we would notify the Office of Emergency Management and the University Fire Marshall to see that the concerns are addressed,” Spector wrote. 

He added that all fire alarms at Temple should have a visual signal and that students and faculty should contact DRS or the Office of Emergency Management and the University Fire Marshall directly if they notice an alarm that does not have one.

When it comes to services not covered by the government or university, Zueggin said being deaf takes a financial toll.

“I have a special alarm clock that costs $120,” Zeuggin said. “I mean, that’s just my alarm.”

Melanie Drolsbaugh, an ASL instructor in the College of Public Health who is also deaf, said one of the big changes was the switch from a Text Telephone to a videophone. Videophones are provided to deaf people for free, but she said the Text Telephone, which converts phone calls into text transcriptions, added an additional $200 to a phone bill. 

Maria Zonies, a senior speech-language-hearing major, is the president of Talking Hands, a student organization that holds events and meetings about deaf culture and ASL. 

“This community exists,” she added. “This language needs to be respected. I know other languages offer cultural insights, but ASL has had to battle for where it is now.”

The professors added that although Temple’s deaf community is small — there are currently four students who use ASL interpreters — the university’s diverse student body makes it an overall deaf-friendly environment.

“You expect diversity when you’re at Temple, so it seems more accepting,” Zeuggin said. “People don’t necessarily want everybody to be the same.”

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