Students must wait for class materials to be interpreted, causing assignments to take longer

By Sydney Lockhart

All students had to change their learning habits when the pandemic shut down in-person classes, but Deaf students now face even more extra hurdles to get their education.

“I have barriers, even before the pandemic hit, just because of language, and using interpreters,” said Community Development student Evan Husack. “I’m not getting all the information that I would have if I was just out in the community or just outside.”

Evan Husack said online learning is presenting new challenges for Deaf students./Photo supplied by RRC Rebels

Husack said the Deaf community was advocating to get interpreters for all provincial news conferences and to highlight the people who were not getting the information they needed to be safe. 

In online classes, just like in-person classes, Deaf students have interpreters assigned by the college, but they are only available during school hours.

“So, I’ll use the interpreter as much as I can. During the chunk of time that I have available if I run out of time at 4 p.m. that’s fine, I’ll just kind of pause everything and I’ll do as much as I can with them the next day. I’m just limited in time that way,” said Husack.

He said that his instructors have been accommodating during the pandemic, understanding that he may need more time on assignments if they require any interpreters.

“They do realize that I have accessibility issues and that interpreters aren’t available all the time and so I get extensions,” said the 30-year-old. “For the most part they’re very flexible so I’m pretty fortunate.”

American Sign Language (ASL) is a 3D language which can be more challenging on a 2D screen said Husack, adding that he sets up a black sheet behind him during classes so that he is more visible to the interpreters.  

Husack said hearing people don’t often take the time to have conversations with him in-person, because they aren’t aware of the patience that is needed.

“Some people will just say here’s a paper pad or we can text each other like I don’t know and then they just give up. So that does show that they don’t value me,” he said.

A group of Deaf Studies students practice ASL at NDC in April 2017. Deaf Studies is a 10-month full-time certificate program with a focus on Deaf culture and history./Photo supplied by Red River College.

“I am a white male, so I do carry some privilege, but I also am deaf, and so people don’t see that deafness. For me I have to struggle through that every day, going through that experience.”

Husack said that Deaf people are also facing serious mental health issues due to not being able to get together with one another. 

“Deaf people love getting together, physically, with one another in order to socialize, we do have the option to use online platforms and Zoom, and everything and meet that way but it’s just not the same,” he said.

Husack started an ASL club before the pandemic and had around 50 people join. They’ve held Zoom meetings and joined with clubs from other provinces.

“It is a nice opportunity to meet different people from all different walks of life,” he said.

Jill Patterson, RRC’s manager of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services, said that Deaf students usually have to wait to have any videos interpreted before they are able to do class assignments, which makes assignments and class work take longer. 

Patterson added that her staff works as fast as they can, but online learning has created more work for them with more content to interpret for every student. 

“For both synchronous and asynchronous classes, the platforms that the college is using have been challenging, because they’re not all that Deaf friendly,” said Patterson. “The windows are small, so it’s difficult for a deaf person to see the interpreter. It’s very pixely, calls drop, there is lag.”

Patterson said the Deaf community prefers to use Zoom because of the bigger window sizes and the captioning options. But Zoom is one of the only video meeting programs not approved for class use by RRC.

“We’ve had to put in an extraordinary number of hours to add captioning to videos and to lectures, which has been super challenging,” she said.

Patterson said her biggest concern is the lack of accessibility for Deaf students and how much later they receive information compared to hearing students.

“It’s important information for people to understand the challenges that your peers are facing,” she said.

Patterson said if students want in-person appointments, she does offer them but most meetings happen virtually. 

“It’s important for the college and the rest of the hearing world to understand that these are battles that this group of people fight every day, a lack of accessibility.”