Signing skills give boost to nursing student

student stands behind desk with small robotics in front of her

Nov. 18, 2022 – DENTON –  Alana Douglas placed Texas Woman’s University onto her list of potential colleges when a high school counselor told her TWU had a great nursing program. When she found out TWU also had American Sign Language classes, Douglas was ready to pack her bags for Denton. 

While nursing and becoming a midwife is her career goal, ASL is preparing Douglas for her future. Her doctor has told her that by the time she is 40, she will be completely deaf in her right ear and have just 25 percent hearing in her left. Sign language will become a necessary communication tool for Douglas. 

“My electrical signals are not doing what they are supposed to be doing,” Douglas explained. “They are not connecting. Sound is not getting all the way to my brain.”

Now a junior at TWU, Douglas has made it a priority for sign language to fit in her schedule, which is jammed full with pre-nursing and child development classes. TWU has given her opportunities with sign language, and she has taken them with exuberance and positivity. 

“I’m so excited for later in life to see how these experiences will bring me to other places,” Douglas said.

Currently, Douglas has about 70% hearing in her right ear and 80% in her left. She has an easier time hearing higher pitched voices than lower pitched ones. Sitting in the front row for classes is a must. The closed captioning on her television is turned on, and the volume on the remote gets pushed way up. She loves listening to music in the car and knows from her mom what volume the speakers have to be lowered to so music can’t be heard from outside the car.

“I used to be a fantastic multitasker and now I can’t do multiple things and listen to someone,” Douglas said. “I need to focus on your words.”

For the last 2½ years, Douglas has taken three sign language classes taught by TWU professor Chad Smith in the Department of Communication Sciences. This past summer, she worked at Camp Code and Camp LEGO, both week-long day camps run by TWU for Deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing children that are focused on coding and robotics. 

The camps were Douglas’s first time working with robotics and she loved every minute, especially working one-on-one with the children. Then Smith offered her another opportunity: to teach robotics via Zoom to children who are deaf and hard of hearing in a Chicago classroom. For two hours once a week during the 2022 fall semester, Douglas teaches code and robotics in front of a large television monitor at TWU’s Future Classroom Lab. 

“At first, I was a little hesitant because it’s harder to sign over Zoom,” Douglas said. “You have to think about angling and lighting. And, not all signs are the same. They do signs a little differently in Chicago.”

She also had to learn each student’s hearing abilities and find out the best way to communicate with him or her. Did she need to just sign or sign and talk? Despite the obstacles, she described her first lesson as a perfect experience.

“It was so cool for me to be able to work with Black kids that are deaf, as well as getting them to see me, a Black signer and a Black woman doing STEM,” Douglas said. Douglas thought it was important for the students to see a Black woman signing since there are not many teachers for the Deaf that are Black. 

Douglas’s enthusiasm extends to nursing as well. She is looking forward to applying to nursing school in August of 2023 and hopefully enrolling at the Houston campus. She envisions working at a hospital and being able to assist patients who need an interpreter.

Douglas says she knows there will be an adjustment and strong emotions when she loses more of her hearing. She is becoming more aware of some of the struggles of the Deaf community to live in a hearing world. And, there are so many sounds she will miss. 

“I do feel like I am prepared,” Douglas said. “If tomorrow I woke up and I had no hearing, I would be able to live in my day-to-day world.”


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Page last updated 1:12 PM, May 30, 2024