Sarah Honigfeld is just like any other college senior, finishing up her undergraduate program, spicing up her resume, getting ready for the “real” world. Only she is doing it all as a member of the deaf community.
Honigfeld was diagnosed as completely deaf between 10 and 12 months old and has not let it slow her down since. She is currently a student at Northeastern University (NU) who is studying to receive her undergraduate degree in human services with a minor in sociology and her graduate degree in early intervention. She wears two hearing aids and lip reads in her daily life and is fluent in sign language. Honigfeld grew up being mainstreamed in public schools and said she is very comfortable with it.
“I’m very comfortable with hearing people, I’m comfortable with mainstreaming,” Honigfeld said. “What was most important to me was education and the opportunities available. ‘Deaf’ was not a priority.”
All deaf high school students heading towards their college years have to decide where they want to continue their education. Some choose traditional “deaf” schools while others decide on predominantly hearing schools. In that case there are a number of resources available to enhance their learning experience.
The National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) housed inside of Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York, is one popular “deaf” choice. NTID had over 1,300 deaf and hard of hearing students and over 14,000 hearing students in their undergraduate class in 2012. The school is known for integrating deaf and hearing together.
Jim Lipsky, a NTID alum and current professor at Northeastern who is deaf himself and communicates in ASL, liked the mix of deaf and hearing students together. In fact, he named the integration as one of the main reasons why he chose to attend NTID. He said that he preferred the mix of students that NTID had to offer over the all-deaf population of Gallaudet.
Lipsky greatly enjoyed his experience at NTID. He said that there was “great support for deaf.” He graduated with a degree in computer science and a minor in business. After six years of working in a job where he was the only deaf employee Lipsky was frustrated with the communication limits and decided to try teaching ASL at a friend’s suggestion. He enjoyed the challenge and chose to switch from the business world to the teaching one. He said that he learns from his students while they learn from him; in the classroom they are equals. Lipsky is celebrating his 20th anniversary for teaching and still loves it.
Gallaudet University in Washington is another “deaf” school; in fact it is the only deaf liberal arts college in the United States. Its mission statement describes the school as a “multicultural institution of higher education that ensures the intellectual and professional advancement of deaf and hard of hearing individuals through American Sign Language (ASL) and English.” The school had a total enrollment in the fall of 2011 of 1,873 students, the overwhelming majority of them deaf.
There are multiple discussions on the forum alldeaf.com that have deaf people discussing whether college is right for them or not. This is a choice that has to be made on in individual basis, but the resources are definitely available to those who make the decision to go. For students who are more interested in a mainstream option there are schools like Northeastern who have services available for deaf students in their predominantly hearing population.
The National Association of the Deaf mentions the responsibility that higher education institutions have for “providing communication services for students who are deaf or hard of hearing” in their position statement.
Lauren Barr, who works in NU’s Disability Resource Center as the specialist with deaf and hard of hearing, listed the services the school has available. There are four main services provided: interpreting, Communication Access Realtime Translation (better known as CART), note takers, and preferential seating. These services make it easy for deaf students to keep up with their studies.
Angela Herbert is a nationally certified interpreter on staff at Northeastern where she is also an instructor in the ASL interpreting program. She said that as an interpreter she works for deaf staff members, students, and the general audience including prospective students who visit campus and anyone who attends NU events. She said that there is “nowhere on campus I haven’t been” interpreting. “There is the potential to be anywhere on campus.”
So far Honigfeld’s college experience has included participation in on-campus clubs, such as the NU Deaf Club and the Interpreting Club at NU (ICNU), and various community service activities including Americorp’s Jumpstart and Relay for Life. She has completed three separate co-op experiences, one at Bright Horizons in their infant/toddler department, and the other two at the South Boston Boys and Girls Club as an inclusion specialist. She has also been able to study abroad in the south of France and go on the birthright trip with Northeastern’s Hillel club.
Honigfeld, who has always been very independent said the hardest part of college was making the transition from high school life at home to college life, which is something, she pointed out, that all students have to deal with, deaf or not.
Both Lipsky and Honigfeld chose which college to attend based on their own needs. Honigfeld’s advice to young deaf students exploring college options to go with what they are comfortable with. She said, “if being with deaf people is important to you then go to a school with a large deaf population. If you are comfortable with mainstreaming then go with that. College is not the time to push yourself; it is difficult enough.”
Click on the below for a comparison of deaf and hearing classrooms: