By Kaden Boock
Everyone deserves equal access to a quality education. Although college is challenging for everyone, deaf students have many added hurdles to jump over, and Grand Rapids Community College provides American Sign Language interpreters to help aid them in that journey. According to the most recent study by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights released in 2019, about 7.4% of the state population identify as deaf, deaf-blind, or hard of hearing, so the need for interpreters is very prevalent.
Lydia Hansen, a 31-year old ASL interpreter, has been working on and off at GRCC for the past six years. She discussed her experiences over her time working at GRCC, and explained what made her start being interested in ASL in the first place back when she was about 13 or 14.
“My parents had a sign language dictionary in their basement because pre-kids, they had sold their car to a deaf person, and so they got this dictionary because it sparked something in them,” Hansen explained. “Then here comes me, 20-plus years later as a young teen and I was looking through these books in our basement, and I was like ‘Oh, what’s this?,’ and it was a sign language dictionary so I started just teaching myself stuff. Then I started taking lessons from a deaf woman in Grand Rapids and got into it more.”
Hansen also shared what she enjoys most about her job, and how she’s felt rewarded through watching her students succeed with her assistance.
“I always end up creating a bond with the student that I’m working with, and sometimes I’m with them for years and kind of work through their programs with them,” Hansen said, “I enjoy that part of it. I want them to succeed and I enjoy seeing them go on to do the things.”
Navigating college as a deaf student can add a significant amount of challenges. Hansen recounted the more difficult aspect of her job, and how it can be frustrating to watch her students struggle with those challenges and adversities that other students don’t have to deal with.
“Sometimes it’s hard when you see that a student has a need and they’re not able to get that met,” Hansen commented. “Either the resources aren’t available, or the teachers have been awesome, but some aren’t as flexible. It’s frustrating when you see the student struggling with something and you feel like we could make this so much easier.”
Hansen believes deaf students deserve the best assistance in order to get the education experience they deserve, and not have to worry about added struggles in school in order to chase after their goals. She recalled many of her students’ determination and passion for the field they were pursuing.
“The student that I came in to first start working with was in the culinary program, so I still think about them like ‘I wonder if they’re doing something with cooking’ because I could see how passionate they were about it,” Hansen remarked. “I hope that they’re still enjoying it and still doing well with that.”