SSD associate director brings opportunity to DHH students

Elizabeth Hlavinka

More than 50 percent of the deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) students at UT live unaware of the extent of the captioning and interpreter services the University offers. But there to ensure these students’ needs are met is Lauren Kinast, UT’s Services for Students with Disabilities associate director.

Kinast’s position had previously been filled by a hearing person. Kinast said because she is deaf and a consumer of the interpreter services herself, she is better able to match the specific needs of students with the appropriate interpreter, who each has his or her own unique style and skill set.

After earning her degree in graphic design, Kinast had difficulty finding a job, often missing opportunities available to hearing employees. Kinast said these difficulties were rooted in inadequate appropriations within the education system.

Frustrated by the communication barriers she faced, Kinast shifted toward a career in education to reform college programs and provide accommodations for students
with disabilities.

Kinast said her 17-year-old daughter, who is deaf, has also experienced limited opportunities, and was not able to participate in her school’s annual academic bowl. But this year, Kinast formed the first deaf team to compete in the competition, despite a lack of funding from the school. Kinast said students left with new friendships, connections and
invaluable experiences.

Kinast also works for the Child First Campaign, an outreach program that ensures K-12 programs are meeting students’ needs appropriately. 

In the future, Kinast plans to finish her Ph.D. in higher education and leadership and continue educating students, reforming policies and inspiring leadership in students
with disabilities.

“Looking back, I missed out on a lot,” Kinast said. “We don’t want schools just trying to get by; we really want to change, and change for the
right reasons.”