March 7, 2013

Deaf students discover they have a voice

In Fulton, Missouri, 17 middle school students recently participated in a speech contest to explain "Why My Voice is Important." It was unique because these students represented the Missouri School for the Deaf. Their voice was their hands.

Jennifer Dignan, Chair of the Communication Contest for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (CCDHH) and a teacher at the Missouri School for the Deaf explained that at first, she was taken aback by the topic, but upon reflection, she realized it was perfect. "We do have a voice, but its a different kind, so I had to make sure my students understood," she said.

Responding to concern raised by some clubs, Optimist International modified the topic for CCDHH students to be "Why My Opinions are Important;" however, the original topic remains acceptable.

Dignan explained further, "When I first told them they said, 'my voice? That doesn't apply to us,' but I explained it's how you express your thoughts, your feelings, and make yourself heard, and they really got that."

As hearing persons, we sometimes forget how slight wording can make all the difference in how something is perceived by the deaf community. I applaud Ms. Dignan for using this opportunity to help her students learn that a voice can be heard in many ways.

Photo courtesy of the Fulton Optimist Club. From left, Elizabeth Harrison, first place; Tyra Rogers, second place; Cheyenne Dickerson, third place; and Pat Brauner with the Optimist Club.

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