Ruth Peterson, the first deaf student to attend Ricks College in 1939, passed away on May 18 at age 94, according to the funeral service program.
The BYU-Idaho Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services have changed since the first deaf student’s attended the university.
“This is my second semester being an ASL interpreter on campus, and I can already see changes within the program from when I first started to now,” said Rashida Torres, a sophomore majoring in general studies.
Torres said American Sign Language was her first language while growing up because her mother is deaf, along with other members of her family. She said she has signed American Sign Language her entire life.
“At first, I applied for the interpretation job on campus because I needed a job, but as I worked, I focused more on improving my comprehension of the language rather than focusing on the pay,” Torres said.
Torres said deaf people tend to be very honest. She said if someone were to have a stain on their shirt or food in their teeth, a deaf person generally will not hesitate to tell the person about this.
“I have realized from working there just how observant and blunt some deaf people are; I have to double check before I get to work every day to make sure that I look presentable,” Torres said.
Torres said the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services and programs have changed since Peterson’s attendance at Ricks because more people can communicate using American Sign Language these days and less deaf students are attending BYU-I.
“I feel like the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services are actually hiring too many interpreters for the deaf,” Torres said. “We have a large amount of devotional interpreters and a small amount of people to interpret the language for.”
Torres also said she wished the university would not have taken out the ASL courses it used to offer three years ago because she feels more people should learn the language to make their fellow deaf students feel included.
Valarie Sturm, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services coordinator, has been working for BYU-I for six years and said the programs have changed not only since Ruth Peterson’s attendance at the university, but even since Sturm began working there.
“Before I started working at BYU-Idaho, there was no distinct Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services,” Sturm said. “Things have definitely improved.”
Sturm said the university has interpreters and transcribers now, and those services were not available back in Peterson’s generation.
Sturm said BYU-I will soon have a live broadcast of interpreters for devotional, which is a way the campus is continually progressing.
“We are, however, missing a piece of the fellowship that BYU-Idaho offers,” Sturm said. “Interpreters are not provided for campus wards, nor is there any centralized unit designated for deaf students.”
Sturm said that when BYU-I discontinued the sign language courses, students who were curious about learning the language were no longer able to be taught the language.
Torres said she wants everyone to understand that deaf students are not as different from hearing students as people tend to assume.
Torres said BYU-I has changed a lot over the years, and she hopes the university will continue to improve the deaf programs on campus.