Deaf UCF students say their wishes aren’t heard
School lacks full-time interpreters
Published: Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, June 6, 2012 16:06
Deaf students have tried to make their voices heard about the lack of accessibility on campus, but to several students, it seems UCF isn’t listening.
Robert Purdy Jr., a deaf student who will graduate this summer with a degree in environmental engineering, has struggled with various UCF departments in receiving help for his disability. His biggest complaint is the difficulty in finding an interpreter when he needs one. Although Student Disability Services provides a sign language interpreter and other services for all of his academic needs, that service does not extend to extracurricular activities. For help with clubs or social events, Purdy must petition the Student Government Association or the Office of Student Involvement.
“I feel like I have to work to stay here [at UCF] just to be involved in any activity,” Purdy said.
Purdy and other deaf students say that their biggest complaint is the lack of a full-time interpreter on campus. Per an agreement with SDS, all deaf students have been instructed to give SDS at least 24 hours of advance notice if they need an interpreter at the last minute, such as to speak with a professor before a test or assignment is due, or if they plan to not attend, leave early or arrive late to one of their classes that week.
“Other students have the right to show up to class or not. Why can’t we?” Purdy said.
Although interpreters are provided, it can also be a time-consuming process to obtain one, Purdy said, noting that he often has to instruct multiple department staff in how to hire an interpreter after he requests one. Purdy, who is a former president of the American Sign Language Club, said he wishes the staff was trained in how to accommodate their specific needs, including closed captioning and hearing aids.
Junior political science major Jacob Salem shares Purdy’s opinion that communication and lack of proper training are the main issues with disability services on campus, although he’s glad that SGA has progressed with their awareness of deaf students’ needs.
“[SGA] has done a decent job of addressing my issues such as setting up a hotline for accommodation services, creating a budget for sign language interpreters and hopefully soon, including awareness of our accommodation services in the leadership training orientation for registered student organizations,” Salem wrote in an email.
As the current president of the ASL Club, Salem plans to start a Deaf Awareness month, which he hopes will further the cause for better disability services while making deaf students feel comfortable at UCF. A list of events includes a student question-and-answer session with deaf students, as well as providing interpreters for incoming deaf students at their orientation — a service Salem didn’t receive when he attended his orientation two years ago.
“What I am asking from UCF is to prevent that from happening with upcoming students and stand with them for whatever they need in order to ensure their effectiveness of education, college experience and continuation of confidence,” Salem wrote.
Instructor Jason Hurdich has been teaching at UCF since 2001. Hurdich, who is completely deaf, notes that the university has improved accessibility for deaf students, although there is still more work to be done.
“We do pretty good with academic services for classrooms,” Hurdich said. “For extracurricular functions, we don’t provide for interpreters. There are a lot of students that are frustrated by that. Any kind of performances, theatres, shows, those could be interpreted. If we have comedians … self-defense classes, gym classes … these should have interpreters if requested.
“There are these boundaries … [students] feel like they’re getting all these roadblocks when they come here [to UCF],” Hurdich said.
Hurdich suggests that UCF try to make the student disabilities office a more centralized department that can handle all disability problems on campus instead of having other departments responsible for various needs. He said that the University of North Florida, Florida International University and Florida State University all follow this model.
Mark Gumble, assistant vice president for student development and enrollment services, believes that the university already supplies adequate academic services for deaf students, but the process to acquire those services could be improved.
“It’s not a lack of accessibility; it’s being more efficient,” he said. “We just gotta find what’s reasonable. It’s a challenge to provide on-demand services. … One full-time staff member is not going to meet the best needs.”
Nelson Santiago, coordinator of the Multicultural Student Center, agrees with Gumble.