Hua and Electrical Engineering: A Case Study on Accommodating Deafness or Hearing Loss

DO-IT Factsheet #212
http://www.washington.edu/doit/Stem/articles?212

Background

I'm Hua, a junior in electrical engineering. I am profoundly deaf, meaning that I have no hearing, and I use American Sign Language (ASL) as my primary communication method in courses and for personal communication.

Access Issues

When I began to take upper-division engineering courses in my junior year, I found that the pace of classes, combined with new and advanced terminology, made it difficult to follow and keep up with lectures and in-class discussions. I only use sign language interpreters in my classes. The interpreters were having difficulties signing some technical terms, and most of the interpreters did not have prior experience interpreting for engineering courses.

Solutions

I contacted the interpreting services coordinator at disabled student services and explained the problem. Knowing all the interpreters very well, she quickly understood the nature of my concern and had several suggestions. One possible option was to use real-time captioning (a stenographer who attends class with the student enters all spoken words so the student can read the discussion on a laptop) rather than sign language interpreters, or to use both accommodations in some courses. After more discussion, I told her that I preferred to only use ASL. She immediately contacted the interpreters to discuss the concerns. The office purchased a copy of each textbook and gave it to the interpreters to read and review for terminology. The interpreting services coordinator and I arranged a meeting with each instructor to discuss the issue. Some of the instructors were able to provide a listing/glossary of terms and definitions for me and the interpreters. Then the interpreting services coordinator set up several in-service training sessions for all interpreters in my engineering courses. The purpose was for them to design and agree on signs for much of the advanced terminology. In this way, the interpreters were more familiar with terms as they were discussed in lectures, and the signs were more easily communicated and consistent across interpreters and courses. Team interpreting is used on my campus. The interpreters had weekly meetings where they discussed and practiced technical signs for these or other courses. For some courses, the interpreter and I met with the instructor after class to clarify any confusion about lecture content and signs. The interpreting services coordinator also contacted several other universities with deaf students and engineering departments to learn about their experiences with technical signs. As a result of this research, they are now developing a video for interpreters on technical terms/signs in the engineering field, which can be used on my campus and other campuses for the professional development of interpreters.

Conclusion

This case study illustrates the following:

  1. When the student assertively presents concerns in a timely manner, the campus may have resources and expertise to address the issues.
  2. Interpreting services for deaf students are highly developed and responsive on some campuses and include ongoing campus or community in-service training and professional development programs for interpreters.
  3. Faculty, disability services staff, and interpreters can work together to provide effective and timely accommodations.
  4. Disabled student services staff can give priority consideration to the communication preferences of the student (in this case, American Sign Language interpreting rather than real-time captioning).