UT Deaf and Hard of Hearing students work to build support network


Shweta Gulati

Lisa Guerra and Rogelio Fernandez converse using sign language at the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Meet-and-Greet event. 

Julia Brouillette

Of the 54 Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) students currently attending UT, only a few have ever had the chance to interact with each other — but DHH students and Services for Students with Disabilities are working to change that. 

Dozens of DHH students met for the first time at an informal meet-and-greet dinner Tuesday.

Lauren Kinast, associate director for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services, said she noticed the lack of unification among DHH students shortly after her arrival on campus.

“I often have students asking, ‘How many DHH students are there here at UT?’ and ‘Where do I find them? How do I meet them?’ [and] this is one way we hope to bring them together,” Kinast said. 

Plan II senior Duggan Baker planned the event in conjunction with David Simmons, a linguistics lecturer who teaches sign language. Baker said he wanted to connect with a larger community.

“I became deaf right when I was born,” Baker said. “I grew up going to school with hearing students, but when I came to college I had a little trouble adjusting. I was quiet, and I didn’t want to have to explain my deafness to everyone.” 

DHH students like Baker have formed small groups like SignHorns, a Facebook page designed to connect students to the deaf community on campus and in Austin. Students can also participate in College Bowl — an academic competition hosted by the National Association of the Deaf. 

History senior Lisa Guerra, a College Bowl contestant, said her experience with the competition opened up more opportunities for her to socialize and make friends on campus.

“It was like a culture shock for me,” Guerra said. “I had never seen so many deaf people all in one place, signing and communicating.” 

Still, Simmons said many students have yet to get involved or find a sense of community.

“DHH students still feel very isolated and invisible on campus,” Simmons said. “We are looking to improve the quality of life for them.”

At the meet-and-greet dinner, linguistics department Chair Richard Meier said the department is working on several new initiatives related to DHH students, including adding an American Sign Language minor. 

Baker said he hopes to hold more informal events in the future and to eventually unite all DHH students on campus.