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Making their mark on the world life stories and reflections from successful young Deaf adults


Bobby Cox Programmer, Entrepreneur


Seattle entrepreneur Bobby Cox was a National Merit finalist in high school and went on to receive a full scholarship to Rochester Institute of Technology. He credits his success to “parents who instinctively knew that language was very important.” A tech-savvy business-minded innovator, Cox has established a programming company and several digital publishing endeavors. About being bilingual, Cox says, “being both an ASL and English bilingual has made everything possible for me. I would not have, for example, been able to hold a corporate job without English fluency.   Being able to communicate clearly and concisely in English is critical for success in the business world. Being proficient in ASL...has enabled me to express myself in ways that I find deeply satisfying; expressing my emotions, thoughts, and concepts to my friends and significant others.  It also has enabled me to develop my personality and mind by giving me full access to my deaf and signing peers.” Growing up, Cox experienced a number of different deaf programs in mainstream education settings, and as an adult he both signs and speaks. He notes, “My mom learned sign language when I was a child, with and alongside me. My mom said that she knew that it was the right thing to do, the obvious thing to do, to provide full access to language in a visual way…God bless her!” To parents, Cox says, “Sign early and sign often.  Don't be afraid to use every tool at your disposal to communicate; your child will soak it up like a sponge and ask for more.  I was reading when I was around two years old due to the daily work that my mother did with me.”

“My mom learned sign language when I was a child, with and alongside me...God bless her!” Bobby Cox


Louise Stern Writer and Artist


Published novelist and artist Louise Stern is “finding a way to look at ideas about communication and language, stemming from my deafness, in my work.” Born to deaf and ASL-fluent parents, Stern attended the California School for the Deaf in Fremont. She attended Gallaudet University for her B.A. and then Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London, England for her MA. Stern’s siblings are deaf, and both her parents are educators. She remembers, “My mother especially always made sure to balance our bilingual experience -- I remember her sitting by the TV, signing the captions to us before we were old enough to read, and during bedtime stories our parents always pointed to the English words as they signed to us. They made us constantly aware of the relationship between the two languages and also helped us to see how the characters of the languages differed.”

“Being bilingual has given me freedom to try to find meaning for myself” Louise Stern

About her family background, Stern said, “My parents are both deaf of deaf [parents]. My father grew up not being allowed to sign in school and his deaf parents were encouraged not to sign at home.   By the time he entered professional life the trend had changed, but he has always been passionate about making sure deaf children are able to communicate themselves through their native language, no matter what other options they choose alongside.” Being bilingual, Stern says, “has given me freedom to try to find meaning for myself.  Navigating between communities can be tough, but it is very possible, and as I get older I get better at it.  I don't see them as separate worlds anymore.” Thoughts for parents: “Focus on making sure that full communication happens at school and at home.  It is what makes us human.”

Photo credits: Steven Fisher


Adrean Clark Publisher, Writer, Artist


“I believe it is one big world and we all live in it. With that said, I love the community that ASL opened up for me” Adrean Clark

Publisher, artist, and writer Adrean Clark is a freelance illustrator and a small business owner. Over the years, she has established several publishing companies and has had illustrations and comic strips appear in different publications. She has published seven books. About her education, Clark says, “I was very unhappy in the mainstreamed classroom until I transferred to CNCSD [a school for deaf students]. It was a turning point, and I loved being immersed in the ASL-rich environment. Having full access in the educational environment improved my self-esteem and helped me do more academically.” “It is a privilege to be bilingual (and ought to be a necessity!)” writes Clark. “Language is a depository of a culture's history, providing unique viewpoints for those who express themselves. I appreciate the two different viewpoints and framing that ASL and English provide; it gives me a step up in business because my mind is already flexible. She and her husband, John Lee, also featured here, have three children. “Our children,” Clark says, ”are very active and imaginative. Sometimes English words aren't enough for them -- they need to express their ideas and tell stories using their whole body. I can't think of a better language for growing adults than ASL; it's perfectly suited to their energetic needs.” About communication with her family: “My parents are hearing. My mother learned Signed English first, but later learned ASL when she studied to become an interpreter. The family story is that when I was very small, I would come into the kitchen and cry because we could not communicate with each other. My mother borrowed a book of signs from a friend, and we learned together. Afterwards my mother could discuss breakfast with me. It became a family bonding time.” More reflections from Clark: “I believe it is one big world and we all live in it. We connect with each other through different ways, and orbit within our social groups. That said, I love the community that ASL opened up for me. It's full of lots of interesting people with interesting lives, and I can learn from them through a fully accessible language in ASL. With non-signers I write or use gestures. They are usually open to a new communication experience. Many people say they want to learn how to sign -- so part of my work is in making ASL more visually accessible to everyone. As a parent, I feel it's important to remember that our children are future adults and parents. We were children ourselves, and being able to communicate was important to us. Our children need to feel that their parents care about what they have to say, and having more than one language to express themselves in is wonderful!”


Franklin C. Torres R贸denas Assistant Professor and Advocate


“Your children will appreciate it if you are willing to learn sign language for better communication” Franklin Torres Ródenas

An Assistant Professor in English at Gallaudet University, Franklin C. Torres Ródenas teaches English and general studies. Torres Ródenas recently completed his Ph.D. in Post Secondary and Adult Education and is the first person in his family to attend college. Torres Ródenas is actively involved with many Deaf community organizations such as the Latino Deaf and Hard of Hearing Association of the Metropolitan D.C. Area. Torres Ródenas’s favorite quote is “To accomplish great things, we must dream as well as act,” by Anatole France. Torres Ródenas chose to attend Gallaudet, a university with a bilingual/ bicultural ASL-English mission, for his B.A. and M.A. so that he could have direct access to learning through in-depth conversations, seminars, and meetings with his signing professors. Torres Ródenas notes that he “did not feel tension or stress in communicating.  It's…a free environment.”   Torres Ródenas especially appreciated the flexibility that a bilingual environment provides for providing multiple avenues for learning. He cited as one example the ability of a professor to use the visual and spatial properties of ASL to demonstrate a math problem and then Torres Ródenas could turn to the English text for further elaboration. He appreciated “the direct communication, and not having to go through interpreters.” Torres Ródenas is the second generation of a Deaf family from Lima, Peru. He and his family used Peruvian Sign Language (LSP) and Spanish in the home and community.  Torres Ródenas learned ASL and English when he was seventeen years old and moved to the United States for school.   Torres Ródenas considers a deaf child’s need for consistent and meaningful language access to be an issue of human rights. “Your children,” Torres Ródenas writes, “will appreciate it if you are willing to learn sign language for better communication.”


John Lee Clark Poet, Writer, Artist

Photo credit: Louis Miranda


Poet and publisher John Lee Clark counts his family and his three sons as being one of the biggest accomplishments of his life. Published in POETRY magazine, Clark has edited a collection of poetry written by Deaf Americans for Gallaudet University Press. He has also received writing fellowships from Intermedia Arts Center, Minnesota State Arts Board, and The Loft Literary Center. An attendee of “ASL-rich” schools and education environments, Clark says he has always had full access.

“Being bilingual...is like breathing” John Lee Clark

“I was born into an all-deaf, all-signing family, and I had access to language from Day One,” writes Clark. “Learning English did not feel like ‘learning a new language’--it felt like it was a natural outgrowth. It's like, I simply communicated.  I just wrote when I needed to or wanted to.  I just picked up books and got buried in them.  I can't remember ‘learning’ either language….Being bilingual…is like breathing. Air certainly contributes to our lives, but unless you have asthma or you've been underwater for too long, you don't notice it.  I suppose you could say that the best outcome of being bilingual is that my life is utterly normal.” Clark’s thoughts on deaf identity within hearing families: “I've always loved the quote from Frederick Schreiber: ‘We are your children grown up.’  The fact is, many, many deaf children, no matter how hard their parents and educators try to prevent them from doing it, participate in the deaf community as adults.  This can be a difficult experience for them if they're not prepared for life in a full-fledged community.  Parents would do well by participating in the community themselves, to some degree.  Think of it as an investment--the better prepared your children are, the happier they'll be, not only in the deaf world but in their regular forays into other worlds. If you want to truly communicate with your children, you have to give them a way to communicate back…Kids are capable of making great choices--let them do that.”


Cara Miller Clinical Psychologist


Cara Miller, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, and she says that she could “not have succeeded on my quest for my doctorate without the incredible foundation of support, guidance, and encouragement laid down by my family, friends, community, and teachers.” “I completed my clinical training as a psychotherapist providing counseling to young adults seeking services through their university’s Counseling Centers. Clinically, my therapeutic expertise is in areas of identity development, trauma, grief and loss, disability, deafness, and LGBTQ issues. I’m currently working towards my licensure as a Clinical Psychologist, with the goal of opening a private practice in which I can provide therapy to hearing, D/deaf, hard of hearing clients. Professionally and personally, I enjoy wearing a variety of hats, as an advocate, counselor, consultant, educator, author, and public speaker.” “I was 18 months old,” notes Miller, “when my severe-to-profound hearing loss was identified. My hearing parents were distressed and dismayed -- but not discouraged -- by the warnings about deaf children’s poor prognoses in language and education so often proffered by doctors, educators, and other professionals at the time. My parents explored many different educational options for me...From first through sixth grades I was fully mainstreamed and accompanied to all of my classes by a Cued Language Transliterator (CLT). I excelled academically despite a growing, increasingly-urgent sense of selfconsciousness about being deaf, being different.” At that time, Miller decided to attend Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, a private liberal arts school with undergraduate and graduate programs. There, she “was excited to discover that the roster of Wesleyan’s unique language and culture-based housing included a ‘Sign Language House,’ founded in 1984. The only deaf student on campus, I lived in the Sign Language House and appreciated the ready-made community of hearing students who were learning sign language and interested in deaf-related issues….My understanding of ASL grammar and vocabulary expanded along with my interest in exploring for myself the very same D/deaf-related issues that we discussed in the classroom. I decided to spend the Fall semester of my Junior year as a Visiting Student immersed in the ‘foreign’ language and cultural environment of Gallaudet University. There I studied Deafness in Literature, Psychology, Culture, Sociology, and Theater, for the first time experiencing the comforts and challenges of attending classes in an all-signing environment.”

“I excelled academically [in the mainstream] despite a growing, urgent sense of self consciousness about being deaf, being different” Cara Miller


Having a mutual command of spoken/written English and American Sign Language enables Miller to “approach the playing field -- personally, academically, and professionally with some linguistic ambidexterity, so to speak….Furthermore, as a professional with an understanding of Deaf culture and related psychosocial issues, I can bring additional perspectives informed by cultural competency and linguistic sensitivity to my clinical work. Finally, on a personal level, my life has been so much richer because of the friends I’ve been fortunate enough to meet, and communities I’ve been welcomed into, because of the capacity of shared language to unlock our human potential as connectors.”

“My life has been so much richer because of the friends I’ve been fortunate enough to meet, and communities I’ve been welcomed into, because of the capacity of shared language to unlock our human potential as connectors” Cara Miller

Thoughts for parents: “I recognize how complicated it all must seem! I acknowledge and bear witness to your struggles to do ‘the right thing’ for your deaf or hard of hearing children in a world and in a time wherein your options for technology, education, and socialization seem so very complex. I honor your good intentions. I encourage you to develop a trustworthy connection with your child by seeking out as much information as possible (through research, through professional journals, through conferences, through educators, through D/ deaf and hard of hearing adults) and conveying this information to your child, or encouraging your child to access this information, in an age-appropriate manner. Access to information will be especially important as your child gets older, becomes more capable, and wants to make more life decisions for him or herself. Understand for yourself, and remind your child, that there is no one way to be deaf. Practice empathy and compassion. Encourage your child’s myriad of identities, not just those based on deafness but those rooted in ethnicity, nationality, religion, race, place in the family, sibling status, hobbies and interests, and so on and so forth. Finally, I would like to stress the importance of encouraging and enabling your child’s growing capacity for self-advocacy in regards to his or her varying identities and negotiations thereof.”


Christine Sun Kim Sound Artist

Photo credit: Taeyoon Choi


TED fellow Christine Sun Kim is an artist who employs sound as the medium of her work. When not drawing, lecturing, and performing, she works at the Whitney Museum of American Art as an educator. At the Whitney, she has succeeded in making contemporary art accessible in ASL through video blogs and guided tours. As a TED fellow, she had the opportunity to educate hearing people about her relationship with sound as a deaf person. As a young student in mainstream programs, Kim grew up signing Sign Exact English until she attended University High School in Irvine, California, where she learned American Sign Language. Kim then attended and earned undergraduate and master’s degrees from, respectively, the Rochester Institute of Technology and the School of Visual Arts in NYC. Recently, Kim graduated with another master’s degree in Music and Sound, this time from Bard College’s Milton Avery Graduate School of Art. As an artist, Kim finds it “rewarding…to watch and experience emotions and ideas floating between in both languages.” She has been drawing upon the spatiality of ASL and the linearity of English in her recent compositions and art pieces. She credits her bilingualism with her ability to navigate multiple communities and to consider the artistic possibilities inherent in both languages. Kim’s older sister is also deaf, and when they were young, their mother met a teacher who encouraged the family to sign because then the two sisters would have full access to information. Kim says that she “loves that my parents can sign because I am able to communicate with them ... and have a close relationship with them. A few of my cousins know how to sign, which often comes in handy during family reunions.”

Photo credits: Ryan Lash

“I love that my parents can sign because I am able to communicate with them...and have a close relationship with them” Christine Sun Kim


Gaurav Mathur Associate Professor


Linguistics Associate Professor Gaurav Mathur says that “being an ASL/English bilingual contributed significantly to my success in graduate school and academia afterwards. Using ASL/English interpreters in the classroom, in meetings with colleagues and in networking opportunities at conferences, and using written English at all other times allowed me full access to communication and in turn allowed me to grow as a researcher.” After graduating from a public high school with a mainstreaming program, Mathur immersed himself in the Deaf community while at Princeton University and “embraced ASL” as his primary mode of communication. Professor Mathur says, “It was in my senior year of college that I started using ASL/English interpreters for my classes, and I felt I stood to benefit much more than before, when I was missing out on a lot of classroom discussion. I continued using interpreters throughout my master's and doctoral studies [at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology], and felt I finally had full access to communication in school.” “Being bilingual,” Mathur says, “is a big part of my life, since I have the best of both deaf and hearing worlds. At work, I interact with most people through ASL, giving me full access, and ASL itself provides the very topic for my research. At home, I use both ASL and English. Then, having full fluency in English also gives me access to many more things. I use email a lot, both for work and personal purposes, and all email is in English. English also gives me access to general news and other information on the internet, research published in English, other literature for leisure, closed captioned TV programs and subtitled films, among many more.” Thoughts for parents: “I strongly encourage hearing parents to embrace bilingualism, since most of the world is bilingual, if not multilingual, and bilingualism confers many more benefits than just knowing two languages; it also confers other cognitive, social, academic and psychological benefits, as shown by research, so being bilingual can give your child a serious head start on a successful life in this increasingly smaller world. Thus, hearing parents should encourage their children to become fluent in English by reading as much as possible, and to become fluent in ASL by bringing them into contact with other ASL signers.”

“Being bilingual is a big part of my life, since I have the best of both deaf and hearing worlds” Gaurav Mathur


Michelle Morris World Traveler


“[A] bilingual environment has enabled me to be fearless when it comes looking for international opportunities” Michelle Morris

International relations assistant Michelle Morris has been all over the world! She has traveled to over six countries over twelve times in the last seven years; she has studied Korean and Mandarin Chinese; and she has lived and taught in China. Mainstreamed for her early education, Morris began to develop her sense of herself as a hard of hearing woman in high school. About going to college in a bilingual ASL-English environment, Morris says, “This bilingual environment has enabled me to be fearless when it comes to looking for international opportunities. I feel that I have all my options for communication available. I don’t feel intellectually limited. Because of this, I am able to adopt a ‘go-getter’ attitude which has landed me in many amazing positions, one of which [is] my current position in the International Relations office. I can’t stress the importance of bilingualism for deaf education enough.” “In high school,” Morris says, “it was the language I used to talk with interpreters in class and with my deaf friends. In college, it became MY language. Signing, in many ways, painted a picture that English couldn’t conjure, so I used it because with it I didn’t have to miss anything or ask anyone to repeat themselves over and over. It was convenient and accessible.” About being bilingual, Morris says, “English to me has always been fascinating and interesting and fun. I love to read it, write it, play with it, hear it (when possible), and speak it. ASL is equally engrossing, just in a different way. It is my preferred method of communication and one that I now use daily.”


Kristen Ringman Novelist, Poet


Published novelist and poet Kristen Ringman holds an MFA in Creative Writing and is a professional writer. She has traveled extensively and has done volunteer work in India, Kenya, and Ireland. She and her husband and son live aboard a sailboat and plan to, as Ringman says, “circumnavigate the world.” Born hearing to a hard of hearing mother, Ringman eventually became deaf herself. She started learning ASL and using sign language interpreters in college. She says that “I’ve been able to accomplish much more professionally since I started using ASL interpreters and signing more myself because I've had much deeper access to information.” About her identity, Ringman says, “I've been much happier and have felt ‘culturally different’ rather than ‘disabled’ since I began using ASL as more of a primary language (or at least as often as English).” Ringman both signs and speaks, as does her husband. “My son is hearing, but he uses ASL more often to communicate and has started both speaking and signing early.  ASL is helping him to show us what he wants much more clearly than speech alone.  I use speech myself often because most of my family and friends are hearing, but I prefer ASL as a primary language for other people to use in communication with me (because lip reading gives me headaches if I do it for too long, as it can only show 20% of what people even say, which means most of lip reading is guesswork).” Thoughts for parents: “Use this amazing opportunity you are now blessed with by having a deaf child to learn about Deaf culture and learn ASL.  There are Deaf clubs and ASL classes almost everywhere in America now, so even if you are far from D.C. or other Deaf ‘hubs,’ you can still learn ASL and meet with other signers.  Skype and Facetime and other video chatting options via the internet are also an amazing way that Deaf people can connect and sign with each other now.  There are more ways that the world is becoming a million times more accessible to the Deaf than it has ever been before, so please don't be afraid of the safety or the quality of life your child might have.  If you can learn to see your child's deafness as a gift and as just another way that he/she is unique, then your child will be empowered...Of course, they will struggle with it at times, but every child struggles with themselves at one time or another.  Encourage your child to see the world as an amazing place filled with all kinds of people and environments.  I would also say, please do not force oral speech if your child is having difficulties...Listen to your child and their desires…Try and never make decisions about your child out of fear...Think long and hard before deciding anything, so that you may listen to the deepest part of you and your child when deciding.  ASL, however, shouldn't be a decision with a deaf child, it should just be a new, beautiful, learning experience.”

“ASL... shouldn’t be a decision with a deaf child, it should be just a new, beautiful, and learning experience” Kristen Ringman


Joseph Hill Assistant Professor and Linguist


Assistant Professor of Linguistics Joseph Hill counts as among his major successes a “doctorate degree in linguistics, academic publications (including books, book chapters, and articles), a Fulbright scholarship for my 6-month stay in Italy, and a few years of teaching experience in Italy.” Hill’s mother is hard of hearing and his siblings are deaf and hard of hearing, and all were mainstreamed. Hill first started using a sign language interpreter and had signing teachers in middle school. He said that at that point, his “grades didn’t suffer as much as when I was in a regular classroom with hearing students. I always liked school, but with the sign language access, I loved school even more.” About his education, Hill remembers, “that when I was in elementary school, I really hated writing because I felt that I failed at it. I loved reading as a child but I just didn't like to write because I didn't know what to say and I didn't like to make a mistake. I felt very limited with my communication abilities. It was at the time when sign language was not used by anyone in school. When I was in middle school, a lot of teachers and students used sign language in a deaf program so I started learning it.

“Through the use of sign language, my English improved greatly over the years” Joseph Hill

I felt that with sign language, my world became more open and I felt more confident in my communication abilities. Through the use of sign language, my English improved greatly over the years. I could see how communication was normally practiced. With speech, I tended to be very conscious of how I should talk and how to speak properly. I didn't have the same access as hearing students who could hear everything so I was left to assume or imagine what people talked about. With signing, I just communicated about anything and everything. That helped me to see that the same principles could apply to English in different forms. Over time, I felt comfortable with my writing. So that opened the door for me for many successes and accomplishments down the road.”


Michael Higgins Financial Advisor and Marketing Specialist


Financial advisor and enterprise marketing specialist at Wells Fargo Michael Higgins counts his career as one of his accomplishments. At Wells Fargo, Higgins is responsible for development of enterprise strategy for customers with disabilities; he provides segment expertise and insights for all lines of businesses and channels; he creates strategic capabilities and scales success; he builds relationships with key organizations; and drives business intelligence based on customer metrics and insights. A former NCAA Division I soccer team player, Higgins attended college on a full scholarship and was student body president. Higgins attended primarily deaf schools or programs with signing instruction for his early education. Higgins says that being an ASL-English bilingual contributes to “my ability to communicate through writing and in person.” On the day when Higgins’s parents found out that Michael was deaf, “there was a deaf woman at the hospital who counseled parents as an advocate. She only visited once a week and by a lucky coincidence was there the same day. She told my parents to start learning sign language immediately. They went out and bought a book and started learning so they could communicate with me. I credit this serendipity for my strong language foundation.” With his parents, Higgins uses ASL to communicate. They keep in touch by email, text messages, and videoconferencing.

“Being fluent in both English and ASL definitely is a boon as I navigate both communities” Michael Higgins

“Being fluent in both English and ASL,” Higgins says, “definitely is a boon as I navigate both communities. Most of my interactions with hearing people are as a working professional. I recognize the importance of being able to write clearly and express my thoughts for them. However, out of the office I spend most of my time with my family and deaf friends where ASL is the language of use. It’s a much more natural social language for us.”   Thoughts for parents: “Please take the time to meet with deaf adults in different fields instead of just meeting with hearing medical professionals like doctors or audiologists. By doing this, you can better understand the opportunities for the future your child will have with a strong language foundation.”


Peter Hauser Cognitive Neuroscientist


“The myth that sign language interferes with speech development is one of my pet peeves. Nobody says that learning French would interfere with someone’s acquisition of English” Peter Hauser

Clinical neuropsychologist and Associate Professor Peter Hauser directs the Deaf Studies Laboratory at Rochester Institute of Technology. Before he learned to sign, Hauser said that “I thought that my career options were limited. I thought that I would not be able to have a career that involves interacting with individuals.  When I learned how to sign and began using sign language interpreters, I began to have a lot of post-secondary educational and career opportunities.” About the misconception that learning ASL hinders speech development, Hauser says, “The myth that sign language interferes with speech development is one of my pet peeves.   Nobody says that learning French would interfere with someone's acquisition of English.  I'm a deaf bilingual who code-switches between ASL and spoken English as needed.   Most of my knowledge and vocabulary is acquired through ASL and reading and it has a positive impact on my speech and spoken language abilities.” “By being bilingual,” Hauser says, “I have more tools to communicate with more people than I would if I had fewer tools.  I communicate with others using all means possible whether it is signing, talking, writing, or gesturing.  My sign language skills have allowed me to learn other sign languages as well and to develop a social network of hearing and deaf professionals in other countries.” Thoughts for parents: “To best raise a deaf child, find the mold that fits the child the best for her or him to have the most options possible in life rather than trying to have the child fit a mold that is most comfortable to you and most familiar to you—the mold of yourself.”  


Ryan Barrett Graduate Student


Gallaudet University graduate student and former science laboratory assistant Ryan Barrett was born to deaf parents who signed and was mainstreamed early in his education. Barrett notes that “Being mainstreamed felt as if I was being taught a feeling, and being at Gallaudet feels as if I am, well, actually feeling it.” Being in an ASL-English environment, Barrett says, “has helped me gain confidence in knowing spoken English is not the only avenue of communicating in the world. Language can be expressed in a multitude of ways, and only mistaken thoughts about language prevent that holistic experience.” Being bilingual “contributes to my life by giving me two oars to work with instead of one, and I would say I can sail through life easier because of that. I'm able to understand cultural references left and right, and mediate for others whenever necessary, which provides a networking experience. When I explain concepts, I gain access to others' way of thinking, and that in turn augments my own way of thinking. Teaching and learning go hand in hand after all. It also gives me a newfound appreciation for being alive and experiencing the world. Life is constantly changing around us, and having access to languages assists me in going along with the changes instead of feeling like the changes are working against me.” Thoughts for parents: “Communicate with your child that their happiness is first and foremost your priority. Constantly check in with them throughout their journey and ask for feedback on what they feel they need in order to achieve their dreams…Do not impose one set of cultural beliefs upon your child before he or she has had the chance to explore and experience what does or does not work. You will be surprised with how much you learn when you let go of any preconditioned beliefs about languages and how the world works. In my experience, the world is always willing to work with you; it's just a matter of perspective.”

“In my experience, the world is always willing to work with you; it’s just a matter of perspective” Ryan Barrett


Cookie Roang School Counselor


Certified school counselor and returned Peace Corps volunteer Cookie Roang now works as a Program Specialist at the Center for Communication, Hearing, and Deafness located in West Allis, WI. In addition to teaching and tutoring families and children associated with the center, Roang also works as a Deaf Mentor within the State-funded Deaf Mentor Program. In this program, she teaches ASL to parents of young deaf children. While with the Peace Corps, Roang taught deaf and hard of hearing children in a residential school in central Kenya. Born to deaf and signing parents, Roang used ASL at home and spoken English at a public school. She describes her experience as “surviving” school. Roang attended a school for the Deaf the last two years of high school, and she felt “normal” at that time because she “was able to fully communicate AND understand my teachers and peers in ASL and in English.” Roang went on to attend Gallaudet University for her undergraduate and graduate study and “appreciated the use of bilingualism in classes because ASL is a visual language that helped me understood complicated…concepts or phrases.”  

“I navigate through both worlds really well” Cookie Roang

Being bilingual in ASL and English helped Roang on her journey through graduate school, the Peace Corps, and her other accomplishments. She said that being bilingual allowed her “to connect and bond with people--deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing.” She could communicate with almost anyone she encountered through her life’s journey, and she doesn’t think she “would have been able to succeed as well as I have without both languages.”   Roang is a fluent ASL user and also speaks. However, she says, she primarily uses ASL because “it is hard for the general public to understand or comprehend that I am truly a deaf person. When a person of the general public sees that I use ASL or written English, they internalize the fact that I am deaf and accommodate me from the start (using pen and paper methods, gesture, etc).” Bilingualism has contributed to Roang’s quality of life many ways. She can enjoy a subtitled Shakespeare play, she can use written English to communicate her order at restaurants, explain an ASL concept to her classes, and explain the benefits of bilingualism to parents of the deaf children her employer serves. “I navigate through both worlds really well,” says Roang. “I can take part in the Deaf World and use ASL to voice my opinion or socialize with friends. I can also have a pen-and-paper conversation with my husband’s non-signing hearing friends. Bilingualism allows me to be myself in both worlds with both ASL and written English.” For hearing parents of deaf children, Roang strongly encourages them to “consider your deaf child as a whole! Social development is just as important as intellectual development. Kids learn certain social norms by interacting with others. Deaf children who feel involved or can communicate and understand their classmates are likely to have higher self esteem, have confidence, and a higher chance of succeeding in life. This success also comes with being bilingual as the deaf child will be able to take part in and feel comfortable with both the hearing and Deaf Worlds.”


Andrew Phillips Lawyer


Andrew Phillips is the Policy Counsel at the National Association of the Deaf. He is responsible for providing analysis, recommendations, and counsel to the NAD on policy issues affecting deaf and hard of hearing people across the United States. Phillips is heavily involved with the NAD’s work on federal legislation and the rulemaking processes within various federal agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice. After graduating from the California School for the Deaf (Fremont) and Gallaudet University, Andrew Phillips earned a J.D. at U.C. Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco where he was a member of the Hastings Science and Technology Law Journal and was recognized as “Best Oral Advocate” in his Moot Court class, arguing on behalf of the District of Columbia in D.C. v. Heller. Phillips is a former Congressional Intern of U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer and worked in her Capitol Hill office. Between college and law school he did an internship with the Director of Policy / General Counsel at the National Council on Disability. In his spare time Phillips enjoys playing soccer, hiking, rock climbing, surfing, scuba diving, and traveling. He has traveled in six different continents. In elementary school, Phillips split his time between a deaf education classroom where total communication was used and then the regular classroom with sign language interpreters. He later transferred to the California School for the Deaf at Fremont, finishing out high school with a combination of college courses at Ohlone College, mainstreamed classes at the local public school, and also classes at the California School for the Deaf. Phillips completed a BA in Government at Gallaudet University and then attended law school at UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, CA. Phillips’s parents started taking sign language classes “the minute they found out that [he] was deaf.” Phillips’s mother is a sociologist and was finishing up a Ph.D. in Sociology at UC Berkeley when he was born. Upon finding out that Phillips was deaf, she read every book on deafness and language acquisition for deaf children, and then she reached out to many different experts on the education of deaf and hard of hearing children. Her conclusion, Phillips says, “was simple – that I needed full access to language and she believed that visual and auditory access was the answer, so that I could learn both sign language and spoken language. She believed that I needed every possible ‘tool’ in my toolbox.” After learning SEE when Phillips was very young, his mother started taking ASL classes at Vista College (now Berkeley City College) during his elementary school years.

“My parents started taking sign language classes the minute they found out I was deaf” Andrew Phillips


“I am fluent,” Phillips says, “in ASL, spoken English, and written English. I use my speech with my family and with hearing people who don’t sign or sign well. For instance, in law school I used sign language interpreters to understand what the professor and my classmates said, but spoke for myself whenever called on or asking a question. I also spoke for myself in moot court class where I was recognized as ‘Best Oral Advocate.’ However, I prefer to have interpreters voice for me whenever other deaf people are present.” Phillips notes that the idea that ASL interferes with speech is inaccurate. “If anything,” he says, “having access to ASL enriched my language skills and made me better versed in spoken English. Knowing two languages has taught me the flexibility of language, the different ways it can be used, and has made me stronger in both languages. Being bilingual has been a blessing. It has greatly enriched my language skills such as when I cannot think of the best way to say something in one language, and I will often think about how it’s said in the other language. Being bilingual also gives me access to two different ‘worlds.’ My knowledge of English is especially helpful when communicating via the written language, communicating one-on-one with hearing people, and also when communicating through ASL interpreters. Sometimes I ask interpreters working with me to transliterate and not translate so that I can understand everything that the speaker is saying in English including English phrases that don’t translate well into other languages. My life is very much intertwined in both worlds, however, I’m a deaf person and it’s not easy understanding spoken communication without interpreters. While I can manage one-on-one with most hearing people, there are many situations that are completely inaccessible to me such as group conversations where nobody uses ASL. Thanks to technology, my ability to navigate the hearing world has never been easier – I text with hearing friends and colleagues, send emails and instant messages, and have access to an enormous amount of written information online such as blogs. The Deaf community is a special place for me as we share a beautiful language, rich culture, and common experiences. ASL is by far the most accessible language for me as I can always effortlessly understand what is being said and don’t have to work to lip-read and hear what is being said. With ASL, I am able to completely relax and understand conversations as they flow around me and never be left out.”

“My life is very much intertwined in both worlds” Andrew Phillips


“With ASL, I am able to completely relax and understand conversations as they flow around me and never be left out” Andrew Phillips

What thoughts and suggestions do you have for hearing parents of deaf children? “I believe that every child needs as many tools as possible in his/her toolkit as he/she navigates the world. It is important for deaf children to be fluent in both ASL and English. English obviously is the language of our country and one needs to master it to do well in school, attend college, and succeed in most careers. ASL is just as important for deaf children as it allows them to communicate in a language that is easily accessible and where communication comes naturally. It also is the gateway into the Deaf community where we can find others who have shared experiences and understand what it is like to be a deaf person. I cannot imagine what my life would be like without ASL. It has allowed me to communicate easily with my family, with my peers, and also to use sign language interpreters. My family is also deeply thankful for ASL as it allows them to communicate with me and my friends with ease. With ASL I don’t have to ask people to repeat what they’re saying, I don’t have to try and figure out what I missed, and I can watch other peoples’ conversations and feel free to join. Deaf children are already at a disadvantage in the hearing world and they need every tool possible to navigate an often inaccessible world. For me, having both sign language and English growing up gave me a language-rich environment where I was easily able to absorb information from my family, teachers, and peers. If I did not know ASL, I would have missed out on a lot. I wouldn’t be able to follow my parents’ conversations with each other, conversations between my peers, and much more. I would be limited largely to one-on-one conversations with people. One of the most important ways that we all, especially as children, learn is through observation. With ASL I was able to see how older children behaved and understand what adults talked about with each other. For me, these times spent observing others allowed me to mature and develop critical interpersonal skills. While working as a lawyer requires excellent command of the written English language, my social skills are equally important as I work to advocate on behalf of deaf and hard of hearing people. I work with different people everyday – from chiefs of staff on the Hill to senior legal counsels in federal agencies to heads of organizations, and of course members of the deaf and hard of hearing community. Every deaf child should learn both ASL and English and every member of his/her family should know ASL and sign at all times around the child.”


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VL2 Parent Package Life Stories  

When I grow up, I want to be....... A lawyer, artist, psychologist, illustrator, publisher, entrepreneur, writer, scientist, world traveler...

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