Kimberly Abts, MS, CF-SLP
As a speech-language pathology graduate student at Gallaudet University, I am often asked the following questions (accompanied by some variety of hand movements to simulate American Sign Language): "Are you deaf?" "Why do you go to a school for the deaf?" "Do you use sign language?" Throughout my time in graduate school, it has become apparent that many people are interested in learning about people who are deaf and hard of hearing, but don't have many opportunities.
My first-hand edification with deafness and deaf awareness has been an essential part of the personal growth that accompanies the grueling clinical and course work associated with graduate school. I am challenged daily by the use and incorporation of American Sign Language in my coursework and the immersion into the deaf community on campus.
The presence of the Department of Hearing, Speech, and Language Sciences has been and will continue to be a point of controversy on campus. I have come to understand there will always be individuals who view the on-campus clinic as a threat to the deaf community. My hope is that the gaps in these differences will be bridged through mutual understanding and collaboration. I have seen progress toward this goal during my time at Gallaudet. I am grateful to those who have helped me learn about the SLP's role in the deaf community and I am inspired by those willing to give me the opportunity to better my future profession by sharing their experiences, both negative and positive. As a student at Gallaudet University, I feel a responsibility to educate the general public on what deafness entails, provide information on the different means of communication for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, and remove many of the common misconceptions about the deaf population.
The graduate speech-language pathology class of 2012 has made it a priority to provide opportunities for public education while raising money to establish a scholarship to Camp SHARP (Speech, Hearing, and Aural Rehabilitation Program). Camp SHARP is a summer communication program at Gallaudet for children who are deaf and hard of hearing. The program provides an intensive, language-rich, communication-accessible, and enjoyable environment for children to improve their spoken language skills and reinforce their sign language skills. For a speech-language pathology graduate student at Gallaudet, it is the best of both worlds: the hearing world and the deaf world. Camp SHARP is a step toward collaboration and communication between these two worlds that are, in fact, not all that different.
The last two years have not been easy. Even though I often refer to my time in graduate school as my "study abroad" experience, I would not trade it for the world...either of them.