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Published: October 21, 2019
Proving That Deaf CAN!

Image: Sharon VonFeldt

Image: Sharon VonFeldt

by Amber Carlton


When Denver resident Susan Haney retired from the post office after 44 years, she wanted to do something meaningful,

“I want to show the Deaf community we can do this job. Yes, there are barriers but that doesn’t mean we can’t overcome them.” – Sharon VonFeldt, CNA Studentso she signed up for a Certified Nursing Aide (CNA) course in Denver. But she soon ran into a roadblock: She was the only Deaf student in a course that didn’t offer accommodations like American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation. Frustrated by the communication barrier, she dropped out.

Not the type to give up easily, Susan got in touch with Matthew Ruggles, Independent Living Specialist at The IC, about whether its CNA Training Program (CNATP) would be able to accommodate her. Matthew passed her question to Indy Frazee, Home Health Director, who then contacted Rebecca Hull, Office Assistant at the CNATP. Before long, a single accommodation request had morphed into a dedicated summer course open to both hearing and d/Deaf and hard of hearing (d/Deaf/HOH) students.

Rebecca and Peggy Hernandez, CNATP Coordinator, worked together to ensure that the course was understandable and accessible, including ASL interpretation, tutoring, help with note taking, prepping the clinical site, and setting expectations.

Soon after the course was announced, calls and emails started coming in from individuals in Colorado and throughout the country. One student, Tissa Abey Koon, even made the journey from Maryland to participate in the course. In the end, eight hearing students, seven d/Deaf/ HOH students, and one service dog worked together over four weeks to complete their coursework and clinicals.

“It was great to see the connection form between the hearing and Deaf students as they learned how to communicate with each other, practiced together, and learned together,” said Rebecca.

For Susan Haney, the drive from Denver was worth it after her first CNA course experience. “This time around there was an interpreter and I jumped at the opportunity,” she says.

Although some may question how individuals who are d/Deaf/HOH can work in the medical field, Rebecca sees it as an extension of their natural abilities. “The medical field is very visual,” she notes. “Someone who relies heavily on their hearing may miss crucial body language that a Deaf person easily picks up on because we’re so used to relying on visual cues.”

The CNATP hopes to offer the course again next summer. In the meantime, staff are working with employers to encourage them to hire the graduates.

“I’m just a big believer in ‘Deaf Can,’ and I think that the students in our class are going to go on to make great CNAs,” Rebecca says. “When it comes to hiring a Deaf or hard of hearing employee, there are barriers, yes. But The Independence Center can give employers the tools and training to overcome them. Just give us a call!”

If you are interested in becoming a CNA or an employer in need of a Deaf CNA, contact us at 719-648-1020 or cn*******@th****.org.

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