WASHINGTON — Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., is the world's only university with programs and services designed to accommodate deaf and hard-of-hearing students. The university says its goal is to provide the highest quality liberal-arts and professional education for such students. But Gallaudet also offers an environment for interaction with others facing similar challenges and experiences.
"I think it's about family loyalty. In America, they don't have the same type of loyalty. Maybe loyalty is the wrong word. Maybe it's more like independence," said one student speaking via a teacher/interpreter to a guest on Skype.
Conversations with a guest professor as far away as London are nothing unusual at Gallaudet University. Students here get the opportunity to use a variety of interactive technologies in and out of the classroom, such as webcam conversations via Skype to discuss a reading assignment. The university says approximately 94 percent of the courses at Gallaudet involve some form of online interaction.
Professor Gene Mirus said digital technology plays an integral role in the classroom.
"There are televisions, and webcams and things like that. Students are able to record themselves doing projects in sign language, and do that at home. We use a lot of computer technologies, and webcams and things like that," said Mirus.
The Internet may have made the world a global village, but Gallaudet is already a global community, thanks to its diverse student body. Gallaudet's alumni association has 53 chapters around the world.
Sonam Jain, a student from Sri Lanka, said his years at Gallaudet have offered experiences vastly different from his childhood.
"Sri Lanka has states. And they don't have one standardized sign language," he said. "So in the United States, for example, there are signs for almost everything you would ever want to talk about. In Sri Lanka, there isn't. And so there are many things you find it very difficult to talk about in Sri Lanka."
One student who grew up in a bilingual home also said Gallaudet has broadened his communication skills.
"When I grew up, I was signing in a way that was more English. Here at Gallaudet, I sign more like I sign in ASL [American Sign Language], more visual and the communication is much easier, and the social life is wonderful here," he said.
Professor Mirus said that increased ability to communicate opens doors for many students.
"Most students increase their self-confidence, and improve their communications abilities and they leave Gallaudet ready to face the world," said Mirus.
At Gallaudet, students enjoy a variety of academic and social activities. One graduate student, who is now studying to teach sign language, said her undergraduate years at Gallaudet always were active.
"A lot of networking and reaching out to people I've learned from. I have had role models that I've learned from here," she said. "They provide workshops. There are a lot of sporting activities and intramural events that I've been involved in."
Gallaudet also has some hearing students. The university admits a small number each year - up to five percent of an incoming class.