First Hand

In academic and family life, junior Samson Hunckler bridges worlds of deaf and hearing through an effort first hand

Samson Hunckler steps between elevator doors and stabs button No. 6 with his index finger. After marching up two more flights of stairs in the dorm, he curls his hands around the doorknob and enters Room 807.

But his hands are more than number punchers or door openers. With those same hands, Hunckler also speaks volumes to the deaf - including both of his parents. A junior at Ball State, Hunckler's part-time job is interpreting English into American Sign Language, ASL.

According to Larry Markle, assistant director of disabled student development, Hunckler is one of 10 student interpreters, while six students actually used an interpreter for class each day last semester.

Such services were offered before the Disabilities Act in 1990 and Rehab Act of 1973 were implemented, Markle said, making Ball State a forerunner of accommodating students with disabilities.

In fact, a workshop held at Ball State University spurred the start of Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, R.I.D, a nationally recognized group hailed for its service to the deaf community.. The group grew from efforts to organize a formal foundation for those seeking interpreter training and to increase services offered to deaf people, the R.I.D. Web site said.

Before R.I.D., an interpreting service did not exist. Interpreters merely volunteered their services. One of R.I.D.'s roles involves certifying sign language interpreters. These interpreters relay American Sign Language, the fourth most predominant language in the United States, according to Deaf Resource Library's Web site.

Claiming a community

Members associated with this language name themselves the deaf community - not hearing impaired. The National Association for the Deaf says "hearing-impaired" is often found connected with institutions controlled by hearing people, such as schools and media.

To accommodate this sector of society, interpreters earn professional status after passing a written and performance exam hosted by R.I.D.

Three years ago, graduate assistant Robert Stuart earned his certification through an interpreting school in Ohio. Last semester he interpreted classes taught by Jonah Eleweke, assistant professor of Special Education, who is deaf.

"Interpreters are essential in education of the deaf, as well as in settings such as conferences and the like," Eleweke said. "The work of interpreters enables the deaf to understand what is going on and for the deaf to express their views and thoughts."

Signing in the classroom

Such a bridging device is crucial as only 30 - 40 percent of spoken English is distinguishable on lips in the most favorable conditions, according to "The Disabled Student in the Classroom," a handbook for Ball State faculty and staff.

Deaf education major Dwight E. Caslor III agrees. Unless Caslor's professor is deaf, an interpreter must attend every class he takes.

"If no interpreter (is present), then will the professor be willing to write on the paper or blackboard every word he or she is saying?" Caslor said. "With interpreters, it helps with time saving and clear messaging with no misunderstanding."

When coordinating classroom interpreters, Markle consults Nita Starkey-Warren, owner of Interpreter Networking Reaching Indiana. More often than not, certification is a must due to liability, Stuart said. Low-key events like speeches or banquets open the door for uncertified but trained students like Hunckler.

"If it's something a little more intensive, I make sure I get someone with more credentials," Markle said. "But I like to use students for some events."

One of Hunckler's greatest challenges thus far was his assistant directing of the play "Children of a Lesser God." Performed last Fall, the play depicts a speech therapist who falls in love with a deaf student.

"There are multiple scenes where I am translating for two people between each other," Hunckler said. "I replay the characters in a different language."

In reality language has always meant both spoken word and a flutter of the hands for Hunckler. His mother is one of seven deaf chidren from a family of 10 kids - his father is also deaf. Of the three children this couple bore, all could hear.

"Because my parents are deaf, it's always been my job to interpret for them in everyday situations," Hunckler said. "The only things that bother me are the people that refuse to recognize that my parents are deaf. At a grocery store, the clerk was talking to my mom. And I said, 'I'm sorry, she's deaf. She can't hear you. I'll translate for you.' And then she turns back to my mom and talks louder."

To counteract ignorance, Hunckler offers his services. His experiences as a CODA, or child of a deaf adult, bolster his abilities as an interpreter.

For students without an extensive ASL background, however, Ball State has no interpreting certification. Eleweke said the current course offerings build a framework for those who eventually pursue certification.

"Some of the students in our deaf education program acquire American Sign Language skills to be able to teach deaf children," Eleweke said. "Some of them could go on to take advanced courses in ASL that could lead to certification as an interpreter for the deaf. So our program plays some part in the achievement of their goals as certified interpreters."

Family bound with handspeak

With mention of his family, Hunckler drips words of adoration for the next 10 minutes. For now, his hands are still.

"My parents face this kind of barrier day in and day out, but they never get discouraged," Hunckler said. "They keep that same smile on their face, that same love for mankind."

Even during his mother's recent bout with breast cancer, Hunckler said she kept "smiling the whole way through it. I've never once seen her get discouraged." She recently went into remission. During doctor visits, a professional interpreter volunteered to relay technical terms to the Huncklers.

In his own bouts with interpreting, Hunckler maintains his hands with neatly cut nails and no rings.

"Being an artist, my hands are very important to me. I don't hide them," he said, adding that his job demanded proper etiquette. But the job isn't just a part-time venture. He's on the job, all the time - preparing to sign when a random wave catches his eye. He's directing a play. He's the shadow on stage. And right now he's reclining on a tattered orange couch in his dorm room.

"It's just like asking someone how they play the piano and sing at the same time," he said. "You just do it."


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