Life in the Chippewa Valley as part of the deaf and hard of hearing community

Published: Sep. 28, 2023 at 10:22 PM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Kristin Scheibe lives her life loud and proud being a part of the deaf and hard of hearing community in Eau Claire.

“Historically, we’ve had a lot of deaf community involvement here in the Chippewa Valley,” said Scheibe.

The UW-Eau Claire professor who teaches American Sign Language communicates through the use of an interpreter. It can be hard to track one down in this region, or really anywhere that is not a major metropolitan area she said.

“Yeah, it really requires a lot of time to get an interpreter. You have to check with the interpreters and their schedule because in this area, qualified interpreters, there are just a few. My best guess is that there’s three,” said Scheibe.

As a matter of fact, I met Scheibe a couple of days earlier, but she was not able to get an interpreter at the time. Instead a colleague of hers spoke for her that day. But as luck would have it, Scheibe was able to get an interpreter not too long after.

While there are video interpreting services available, it comes with its limitations.

“It’s hard to have that because that is a 2D person on video as opposed to having an interpreter there in person which is 3D,” said Scheibe.

The cameras and mics are not able to catch all the external movements or sounds that happen in the users environment.

For the deaf and hard of hearing even asking for help can be difficult without signing. ASL classes are one way to help everyone meet in the middle.

The ASL program at UW-Eau Claire is a certification program for proficiency, but not a program for interpreting.

“It’s really nice to be with my peers there in the same interest in ASL,” said Machaela Exner. She is hard of hearing, and much like her professor, grew up in a small town.

“Like being in a noisy environment makes me nervous because there was a lot of noises that my hearing aids pick up. So communication with people can be difficult sometimes,” said Exner.

The UWEC senior hopes to use what she’s learned in ASL class to her rehab sciences studies.

“So I can break that communication bridge between the hearing world and the world,” said Exner.

“I worked at a gas station and every now and again we’d get a deaf little boy who came in. But once I took a couple of classes, I was able to start speaking to them in small phrases. Nothing too crazy yet,” said Pierce Harvey. The Biology senior is of hearing and has shared his interest in learning ASL to other friends who are of hearing.

“One of my only friends that are interested is sitting over there. So we kind of just like talk to each other in sign language. My roommate, I do talk to him and I explain a lot of this to him and he finds it extremely interesting. And I’m glad I can share something like that with someone else,” said Harvey.

Aside from communication, Scheibe said the community also continues to face the tone-deaf notion of being “fixed” of deafness.

That is especially common for children, when their parents pay a visit to the doctor’s office.

“But no, someone who is deaf won’t be exactly like someone who is able to hear later, even if they do have some type of surgery or a cochlear implant,” said Scheibe.

She hopes that those of us who are of hearing actually see the deaf and hard of hearing as nothing more or less than equals.

“People who are deaf can become teachers. Someone who is deaf could become president, who knows?” said Scheibe.

There are no-credit courses for ASL beginners at UWEC offered in the fall and spring.