Silver Chips Online

Hard of hearing but not of heart

Full of persistence and motivation, this Blazer overcomes obstacles to achieve his dreams

November 13, 2003
With a broad smile, sign language club sponsor Shay Taylor lifts up her right hand and, fingers facing the ground, flicks her index and middle fingers back and forth, a signal meaning "purple" in sign language.
Sophomore Nora Arnold rushes to point to a purple poster on the wall and junior Vaibhav Gupta clutches a dark purple chair from a desk nearby. The activity is one of the many exercises that teaches interested Blazers the basics of sign language.

Unlike the other participants, Gupta is learning to sign not only because he is interested, but also because he was born profoundly deaf and uses cued speech.
Gupta's parents moved from California to Montgomery County because of the MCPS support system offered for deaf students. Gupta is one of 320 deaf, or hard-of-hearing, students currently enrolled in MCPS, according to Marti Seraphin, an instructional specialist for the deaf.

Deaf in a public school

Gupta says that the benefits of being in regular classes far outweigh the costs. "It may be a little difficult at times, but there are ways to get around it," he says.
Deaf students are guaranteed the right to an education at public cost in compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975, says Marium Struck, an assistant professor of occupational therapy at Towson University. The law states that students with disabilities must have the option of being taught in general education settings.

In elementary school, Gupta was enrolled in classes comprised of students with special learning needs. Gradually, Gupta began easing into general classes. He is now fully mainstreamed and is also president of the junior class and a member of the debate team.
Although he enjoys being mainstreamed, Gupta mentions some obstacles of being deaf in a public school. "It is slightly harder to keep up," he says. "I'm not saying it's impossible, I'm not saying that it's even that difficult, but it's a little more work."

A tool for the English language

Understanding teachers and peers requires two types of communication: cued speech and lip reading. Gupta acquired the skill of lip reading through basic observation. To help decipher words, MCPS provides him with transliterators who use cued speech, a language that is composed of hand shapes and consonants, as an aid for lip reading. "We function like an ear for the deaf student so he can see everything that the other students hear verbatim," says Davida Fonner, one of Gupta's transliterators.

Communicating with Gupta is not a major obstacle, according to Silvia Trumbower, who teaches Blair's SAT Prep class. "He's easier [to teach] than some students because he's motivated, and he pays very good attention," says Trumbower. "He knows that if he doesn't look at me, he isn't going to get it."
Trumbower is highly imp-ressed by Gupta's linguistic ability. "I'm amazed because I thought he was here for the verbal until I saw his pre-test, and it was obvious that he did not need much help on the verbal at all," she says. "He has never asked me for a definition. He knows what those words mean."

"Opportunities to be gained"

Gupta's success is due to his persistence. In his efforts to become junior class president, Gupta was determined to approach as many of the students as possible and introduce himself as one of the candidates. "Maybe knowing that I had a handicap made me work harder for the job," he says with a shrug.
For the future, Gupta is keeping his options open but is considering becoming a lawyer or going into public service.

"I like to think of [being deaf] as a challenge," he says. "Life has opportunities to be gained rather than burdens to be coped with."