030418 Deaf

Ashley Kennedy, 19, a senior at Georgia School for the Deaf in Cave Spring, shows off her acceptance letter from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, NY, where she wants to study Design & Imaging Technology. (contributed photo by Katherine Kennedy)

At issue are plans to remove from the list of approved schools Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., and National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, New York.

"This change will be detrimental to many young Deaf adults," said Katherine Kennedy, a parent of two seniors at the Cave Spring school. "There are no schools comparable to NTID or Gallaudet in the state of Georgia."

Kennedy's 18-year-old daughter, Ashley Kennedy, has been accepted into NTID's design and imaging technology program. Her son, Dalton Kennedy, 19, is preparing to enter Gallaudet to study theatre and technology.

"If this funding is taken away, they may not be able to attend," she said.

The two prestigious institutions offer deaf students direct instruction in American Sign Language, rather than through interpreters. GSD Superintendent Leslie Jackson said her students learn in both English and ASL, "as is their legal right" under federal law for K-12 education.

A decision by the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency to rescind financial support "would be devastating for our students who resiliently beat the odds to get this opportunity to attend a 4-year college and join the professional world," Jackson said.

The proposed change in service would expand the options for deaf students attending in-state colleges with the support of an interpreter. However, GSD teacher Loren Frick likened it to a hearing student using an English translator to attend a school with German-speaking instructors.

"Imagine if that was the only way you could get a college degree and hope to succeed," Frick said.

Marie Dickinson, the school's federal programs coordinator, said the GVRA's purpose is to provide access to the education and training students need to become productive members of society. Studies at NTID and Gallaudet offer experiences they can have nowhere else, she added.

Many deaf and hard-of-hearing students have no other college assistance available, according to teacher Jamie Saunders, and the proposed change would make it harder for them to pursue meaningful careers.

"This policy will reduce the number of highly educated Deaf in Georgia's workforce," said teacher Paul Saunders.

He said the state has a shortage of qualified ASL interpreters, which already affects the progress of some deaf students at state, community and technical colleges. Those who attend Gallaudet and NTID are more likely to return to Georgia as highly skilled workers.

"That allows them increased earning power while reducing the number of Deaf people on government assistance such as SSI," Saunders added.

The GVRA council is holding a series of public hearings around the state. So far, there's a March 13 hearing in Savannah, a March 21 hearing in Marietta and a March 22 hearing in Gainesville. Other dates could be added.

Comments also are being accepted via an online form linked on the agency's website at gvs.georgia.gov.