Meagan Sullivan has been losing her hearing for the past two years.
The 24-year-old UF health education and behavior master’s student recently started identifying as hard of hearing but doesn’t consider it a disability — just a change in ability.
She said she is comfortable with her new diagnosis thanks to the support of the deaf community. As an undergraduate student, Sullivan took American Sign Language classes, which taught her how to respectfully interact with deaf culture.
“Knowing that people around me know that it’s not ‘hearing loss’ but ‘Deaf Gain’ has helped me have a positive view of myself, which has been invaluable,” Sullivan said.
UF announced a Deaf and Hearing Sciences minor in the College of Public Health and Health Professions on Sept. 6.
The minor is 17 credits — a mixture of ASL, deaf culture and audiological classes, said Stephen Hardy II, a UF lecturer of ASL and deaf studies who started planning the minor in 2015.
“Our Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences department is also aiming to be the flagship in the state of Florida,” Hardy said. “The students expect us to raise standards, and we will meet their challenges.”
Hardy pushed to bring the minor to UF as a deaf professional and professor, supporting the deaf community and empowering students with his work.
Tyler G. James, a 24-year-old health education and behavior doctoral student, has worked closely with Hardy since 2015 to help plan the minor.
James has always been close to the deaf community because he has deaf and hard of hearing family members. He and his mother wanted to learn ASL, but it wasn’t until he started at UF that he had the chance and found his passion for the language.
James said he would have pursued the minor if it was available when he was an undergraduate student, but certain parts of the coursework need to be readdressed.
He hopes they expand the minor to be more culturally focused. The minor is currently offered in a medical-based college, but James said ASL classes would fit better in the division of world languages so students can learn the culture and linguistics of the deaf community.
“At the end of the day, we are lucky to have two amazing ASL instructors, and to have UF recognize that ASL should be taught by native deaf signers,” James said.
Toni Martin, a 19-year-old psychology sophomore, has been taking ASL classes at UF since her freshman year and plans to get the minor.
“Everyone I know seems to want to take ASL but can never find a seat,” she said. “I definitely feel lucky every day to be in such an important and amazing class.
She said UF does a good job of partnering with the deaf community to host events, but could be more inclusive by hiring more deaf employees and offering interpreters for deaf students.
“As a top 7 public university, I feel that it’s important that UF support as much diversity as possible,” she said. “Many other universities in Florida already have similar majors, so it’s nice to see a step in the right direction.”
ASL1110 - American Sign Language 1 (4 credits)
Signing Gators is UF's American Sign Language. Reaghan Wooster, Signing Gators president, has taken and been a teaching assistant for ASL classes at UF. She said she looks forward to the minor's growth and exposure.
"They’re definitely becoming more aware of the needs of ASL and the needs of students taking it and what that means for the deaf community," she said.