Edited on August 19, 2020 to include DeafDisabled. Deaf Vee Journal was contacted to clarify that DeafPlus is an educational term that was developed by Deaf parents and educators without additional disabilities. Whereas DeafDisabled is an identity term. (As Deaf and Hard of hearing people have their preferred labels, we try to honor all labels when being inclusive.)

(ID: “Academics at Gallaudet: Gallaudet is one of the most accessible universities in the world. Fine Print: But, not for the DeafBlind.)

Accommodations for DeafBlind individuals vary based on the person in an academic setting. At Gallaudet University, a school who all of us know and have seen at least one person discuss the amazing accommodation they receive there is struggling more than we thought. Reportedly Gallaudet approaches “situations” for each individual rather than plan for the student and their needs on a case by case basis. This is why so many DeafBlind people continue to express their frustration during their time as students at Gallaudet University. The leading university of the Deaf is not the leading university in accommodations for the variety of disabilities we see in the community such as DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, DeafPlus and at the end of the day even for just Deaf individuals as well . Many students tell stories of leaders in their community talking about how it is “The University for the Deaf!” Upon arrival, people have reported experiencing a rude awakening and it has been happening for years.

Ashley Gladys Jackson recently posted on her Facebook wall dismayed that Gallaudet University told her that she was not to return to campus in the fall. The news hit her like a ton of bricks. While the rest of the world focuses on COVID-19, those that are Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled and DeafPlus along with other disabilities are facing higher chances of isolation and discrimination because of their disability. Jackson doesn’t dispute that this disease is real, however when someone is at home with very little to no accommodations, on top of other underlying circumstances that would make going through their fall semester online nearly impossible; it becomes a question of fair access to the same educational privileges as their peers.

Gallaudet University began Jackson’s experience at Gallaudet by giving her a hard time about her accessibility requests when it came to her housing requests such as needing a single room. “The Office of Students with Disabilities, (OSWD) kept demanding paperwork to prove that I’m Deaf-Blind, and an explanation to why I need a single room.” Jackson stated. To her understanding was that there is only one person that is directly responsible for accommodations for students at Gallaudet University. “The University of Tennessee had a whole team of people that worked together to research all accommodation options and worked with the student. They focused on the student first then the situation whereas Gallaudet University focuses on the situation, not the person.” Jackson continued.

Jackson shared that she was going to try to attend 3 classes a semester, with a plan to get her masters degree in 3 years. Since then she has had to drop her course load to 2 courses instead because of a list of issues. Her reasons include the refusal of the University to provide “voice over” along with tactile interpreting. They would provide tactile in the classroom and expect her to be able to utilize it without any of her additional accommodations provided. There is a lot of reading and for Jackson, she had to spend a lot of her time getting information in sign and then the same information in voice; It was never at the same time. Gallaudet University told Jackson “it is not possible to get both.” Over time, the lack of access and the deprivation of true access became too much and she had to drop down to two classes crushing her goal of graduating on the timeline she wanted. The University academic advisors basically told Jackson that this was “normal for students with additional disabilities” and did not provide anything further that would have helped.

As a DeafBlind individual that is also completely blind, she emphasized the need for her to have speech on top of signing because she relies a lot on her residual hearing to be able to pick up additional cues. Her accommodation request included the request of having tactile and “voice over”. An example would be having an interpreter voice visual descriptions of what’s happening in movies. “The first time, the interpreters would voice for me the descriptions of what’s going on in the movie. When GIS found out, they stopped it. They said the interpreters are not certified in providing audio descriptions of the films.” (Jackson) 

Staff members were also condescending and disrespectful towards DeafBlind individuals. They would do things for them (especially at vending machines) rather than guide them to the buttons. Jackson expressed concern that the university is a Deaf university and the staff members seemed to have very little to zero training on how to work with people with disabilities and practiced both ableism and vidism. This led to her feeling like they would treat DeafBlind students as if they were mentally incapable of doing things on their own. 

Deaf Vee Journal  reached out to Usherla DeBerry, the Housing Operations Manager, to inquire further about the committee that determines who is eligible to return to campus and criterions. We have received no response. From our interview with Jackson, it became clear that several DeafBlind individuals that are fully blind have been denied access to campus while individuals that have low vision have been allowed to come onto campus to accommodate them further this fall. In an announcement on July 30, 2020, Gallaudet University, they stated that anybody that wanted to be considered for their vacancies on campus, they must submit a special form called, “COVID-19 Housing Application Form”. You must be a student to view the form, therefore we were unable to review any of the information on the form. 

If you have a experience at Gallaudet University and their OSWD office providing accommodations positive or negative please submit it to us at [email protected] 

Editor’s Note: For those that are unfamiliar with the difference between tactile and protactile: tactile is the signing of ASL with the DeafBlind person’s hands on top of the signer’s hand. Protactile is more visual cues about the environment around the DeafBlind person by touch.

Deaf Vee Journal uses the word Deaf to apply to all members of our community including but not limited to Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, DeafPlus, Hard of Hearing, Late Deafened, and other individuals that are inclusive in our community.