Earlier this December, we had a fabulous week on the trails with Willson Elementary School, from Cleveland. Part of giving students the best opportunities we can is creating a program that is a safe and accessible place for everyone. Prior to their week out at the CVEEC, we learned that Willson is the center for the district’s deaf and hard of hearing program. To help us prepare, Ranger Pam made time for the instructors to meet with Pastor Joe-who is hearing impaired and works with several of Willson’s deaf students, Ranger James-the first deaf person to work in CVNP, and two ASL interpreters.
Our staff learned Joe’s and James’ story of growing up without a way to fully communicate. We had the chance to ask about do’s and don’ts and were given a great resource, www.thatdeafguy.com, to learn more about deaf culture. We learned that lip reading is really difficult, especially when teachers turn their backs to write on boards, and that interpreters need people to speak slowly and simply in order to best translate. We came to realize how much we rely on tones of voice and explanations in our interactions. Plus, our usual way to get everyone’s attention is a call/response yell.
When the Willson campers and interpreters did arrive, we were excited and ready. We replaced our call/response cue with an all-inclusive visual cue. During dinner everyone played games of slapping hands on the table, and we picked our silliest action songs for clean up. When Ranger James came for lunch, every student had a chance to interview him. We learned about his job, family, and favorite animal. As our time ended, he repeated that friends of deaf students should make a commitment to learn sign language to better communicate, and around the room several students nodded their fists and heads to mean “yes.” We’re definitely on our way at the CVEEC!