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Millcreek Journal

Deaf Awareness Week coincides with 20th anniversary of the Jean Massieu School of the Deaf

Nov 11, 2019 03:48PM ● By Kirk Bradford

City council presenting the proclamation recognizing the 20th anniversary of the JMS School with Program Director Aimee Breinholt and the school’s girl scouts. (Kirk Bradford/City Journals)

By Kirk Bradford | [email protected]

Did you know deaf individuals do not like it when people call or refer to them as “hearing impaired?” Did you know when speaking to a deaf person while using an ASL interpreter, you should be focused and looking at the deaf person, not the interpreter? The same goes for speaking — you look at the person you are speaking to and they can transition back and forth between their interpreter and reading your lips and body language. The purpose of Deaf Awareness Week is to educate about and address matters just like this.

The last week of September is International Deaf Awareness Week. During this period, organizations all over the world hosted events to provide an opportunity for approximately 70 million people who are deaf. The event allows deaf individuals to reflect on their collaborative efforts and promote positive aspects of deafness, encourage social inclusion and raise awareness of organizations that can support the deaf. All over the country it was celebrated in different ways. The American Sign Language division of Central Michigan College even set up simulation material to allow people to experience what it is really like to be deaf or blind for 45 minutes.

The Jean Massieu School (JMS) of the Deaf celebrated its 20th anniversary. JMS alumni, staff and friends in the deaf community came to the event to celebrate its milestone with dinner, awards and a play.  The City Journals connected with Jean Massieu School Program Director Aimee Breinholt to learn more of the basics people may not know. 

 “Using the term hearing impaired is considered very rude in the deaf community,” she said. “This term indicates that something is wrong with the individual and that they are less than a ‘hearing’ person. Please use the terms ‘deaf’ and ‘hard-of-hearing’ when referring to our students…The deaf community has very strong feelings in regard to these terms.”

The Millcreek City Council recognized deaf awareness at its Sept. 23 meeting. The council and those who viewed the meeting experienced the Pledge of Allegiance performed in ASL by the Girl Scout troop of the JMS. During the meeting, the council issued a proclamation recognizing the 20th anniversary of JMS. The proclamation states, “The Jean Massieu School is committed to promoting and fostering a fully accessible learning environment with the goal of being proficient in both languages — American Sign Language and English — and the mayor and city council of Millcreek do hereby recognize the Jean Massieu School of the Deaf as a Valued Community Partner.”

JMS was founded in August 1999 and named after its first deaf teacher. In 2001, the school adopted the yellow jacket as their mascot. Yellowjackets show persistence defending the hive. The students felt it accurately depicted their own sense of determination to fight against all odds, never giving up. In 2008, after 10 years of requesting funding, the Utah State Legislature provided it and the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind established their building downtown. During the winter break of 2010, JMS moved into their permanent home now in Millcreek. Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind (USDB) students rank No. 1 in the United States for high school graduation and USDB serves as a model across the country and around the world. The schools support approximately 1,800 students across Utah. Including USDB’s Educational Support Services, the number of children served statewide is over 3,900. In the Salt Lake City area, 120 students attend the Jean Massieu School for the Deaf and the C. Mark Openshaw Education Center. Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind elementary students are on campus in Millcreek, Utah.

As for the difficulties Breinholt sees her students face? “Access is always a concern. This is not something that most people deal with. Not many people think about what is happening around them and who has access to that. A lot of learning comes through incidental learning. For our deaf students that use ASL and do not have access to spoken language, they often get left out of that incidental learning.”

Last month, the Utah Shakespearean Festival received a lawsuit in federal court for refusing to provide American Sign Language interpreters to the students of JMS and USDB. The schools were there for a performance of “Hamlet.” In the suit the schools alleged that the Shakespeare Festival; its executive producer, Frank Mack; and Southern Utah University violated the Americans with Disabilities Act because the school’s students were “denied equal protection of the laws when they refused to provide effective communication” in the form of ASL interpreters for the show. The lawsuit came about after a Sept. 20 meeting, when the schools asserted at the time that Mack “was adamant that … captioning was sufficient” for audience members who are deaf. According to a summary of the lawsuit, Mack “encouraged” Michelle Tanner, the associate superintendent of the deaf at USDB, “to sue him” if she disagreed about things.

The Utah School for the Deaf and Blind website provides many tips. One of the most important is when you find yourself in a situation where you are communicating with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, get the person’s attention before you start to speak. Look directly at them while you speak and key them into the topic of discussion. Speak slowly and clearly but do not yell, exaggerate or over pronounce words (This can distort speech-reading). By being cognizant of your body language and facial cues, you can deliver your message. Breinholt offered some advice: “It’s always best to talk with deaf individuals. If you would like to reach out to any of our deaf staff, I’d love to help connect up with them…The deaf community is a wonderful community with a beautiful language. We love having others learn more!” 

In addition to more access, Breinholt said she “would love to have others realize that deaf students are just like everyone else. They can do what everyone else can do, just in another language.” Breinholt has been Utah’s runner up for Teacher of the Year and taught for 15 years. 

If you would like to learn more about the deaf community or about sensitivities when addressing someone hard of hearing, you can watch a short video by searching “How to talk with the Deaf” on YouTube. It’s located on the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind YouTube channel.