It was a beautiful day for a graduation ceremony in Columbus. And while central Ohio is no stranger to this type of thing each May, this particular ceremony was unique. Held at the Ohio School for the Deaf, it celebrated the first cohort of students completing an adult basic literacy program for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.
The program, believed to be the first of its kind in the country, is the result of a partnership between Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD), a state agency focused on helping individuals with disabilities find employment; the Delaware Area Career Center; and the Ohio Department of Higher Education’s ASPIRE program. It is focused on improving overall communication abilities, workplace communication skills, reading levels, and independent living skills. Ohio’s Aspire program allows adults to take classes to improve their reading, English, and math skills, thereby increasing their employment and promotion potential. The classes are offered at no cost, but these services have not always been available or accessible for the deaf or hard of hearing.
The five students in the program’s first cohort spent the last six months improving their fluency in both American Sign Language (ASL) and English by participating in eight to 12 hours per week of group classes, online modules, and one-on-one sessions with an instructor.
The May ceremony at the Ohio School for the Deaf featured a presentation from Erika Shadburne of the National Deaf Center on the current state of employment and education for deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals. Shadburne said the deaf are often underemployed or unemployed because of communication and literacy barriers.
Gary Cates, senior vice chancellor at the Ohio Department of Higher Education, and Donna Albanese, state director of the Aspire program, were on hand to thank the students for their inspiring accomplishment. Cates expressed appreciation to the students for being the first cohort in this unique program, and added that these types of partnerships are built on trust.
“I hope that we have built a good trust with you,” Cates said. “Because there will be others who are going to follow and others who are going to benefit because you blazed a trail.”
The ceremony also included remarks from the program’s partner organizations:
- Dr. Lou Maynus, superintendent, Ohio School for the Deaf;
- Mary Beth Freeman, superintendent, Delaware Area Career Center;
- Greg Dormer, deputy director of the Bureau of Services for the Visually Impaired at OOD; and
- Katie Scheetz, program coordinator, OOD.
Laura Smith, the program’s instructor, also presented each student with a certificate of recognition. Smith worked at the Ohio School for the Deaf for 35 years before retiring three years ago. The unique need and potential for this program convinced her to return to teaching.
The students expressed appreciation for the program and the way it boosted their communication skills and their confidence.
“It has given me the confidence to take the next step in my education,” said Allison Clark. “I start college classes on Monday!”
“This program has helped me develop my career,” said Nick Siewertsen, who is currently working in manufacturing.
“This class has helped me feel more confident in my communication skills so that I can seek a better job,” said Anna Piloto.
“Because of this program, I have better self-awareness and more empathy for my community,” said Rae Trambaugh.
The program was featured on WBNS 10TV in Columbus. You can watch the 10TV story online at this link.