RIT's National Technical Institute for the Deaf has helped ease that frustration by offering Information Technology workshops taught directly in sign language. To date, NTID has provided 30 different workshops for more than 200 deaf IT professionals from around the country.
"This is unlike any other class or course that I have taken, because I usually have to work with sign language interpreters," said James Johnson, a technical support chief for the Defense Logistics Agency in New Cumberland, Pa., who has taken two of these workshops. "I did not have the frustration I get when taking classes with an interpreter. It takes me less time to understand the materials being taught, and I'm no longer behind at the end of the day."
Eight hearing people report to Johnson; they use e-mail, relay, sign language interpreters, two-way pagers, Captel phones and even pen and paper to communicate. His department is responsible for designing and developing automation for highly specialized systems used in automated supply by all branches of the military.
Before taking the Microsoft Windows 2000 Server workshop offered by Dean Lauria, NTID professor for its Applied Computer Technology department, Johnson knew very little about servers and what was required to set one up. Now he knows.
"After taking this class, I found myself in a situation where one of our servers went down. It was needed to complete some urgent work assignments that day, and I had no tech available to set another one up," Johnson said. "I was able to set it up and everything worked out just fine."
Due to all the security issues, Johnson was recently asked to begin documenting a task sheet, much of which is centered on the current servers as well as future ones. Because of the workshop, he knew what that document should contain. In addition, Johnson says he is now able to provide a more meaningful evaluation to those who work for him in the networking field.
Deaf people often feel isolated when they are the only deaf person in a hearing class. For example, they may take several minutes to look down to read the course materials. During that time, a hearing participant may ask a question. The deaf person will completely miss the question (and answer), because she didn't hear it, and wasn't watching the interpreter. She may ask that same question, or more likely, not ask, fearing she may have already missed the information.
"Communicating in sign language allows people to participate fully in the workshop through group discussions, problem solving and networking with other attendees," said Don Beil, professor for NTID's Applied Computer Technology Department.
These workshops are part of the Deaf Initiative in Information Technology, supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, and are held in NTID's state-of-the-art classrooms.
With an interpreter, deaf students have to decide if they are going to look at the interpreter or the computer screen the professor is referring to. They can't watch both at the same time.
"An instructor familiar with deafness knows how to handle multiple points of reference during the instruction," Beil explained. "So the students can see what the instructor is signing and also have ample time to view the examples. That's why these workshops have been so successful."
Seventeen more workshops are planned for this year. For more information, visit www.rit.edu/diit.
NTID is the first and largest technological college in the world for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Web address: www.rit.edu/NTID.
Visit www.rit.edu/NTID/newsroom for more NTID news.