Deaf adults learn higher education thanks to new Ohio pilot program


COLUMBUS, Ohio — You're never too old to go back to school.

In this classroom at the Ohio School for the Deaf, your hands are how you talk and your eyes are how you listen.

It's a first of its kind — a new program that started in January is a partnership between Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities, Ohio Department of Higher Education and the Ohio School for the Deaf.

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Ohio has an Aspire program where adults can take classes to improve reading, English and math for free. However, these services have not always been available for the deaf or hard-of-hearing.

"Deaf people don't have that opportunity because there are not funds for interpreters," said Laura Smith.

Smith worked for the Ohio School for the Deaf 35 years. She was retired for the last three years until she says they brought her back to teach this pilot program.

Her five students join her once-a-week online for classes. They also get one-on-one instruction. They learn English, improve their literacy and American Sign Language. Smith says there are 16 classes per semester and the course costs an estimated $30,000, paid for with Aspire grants.

"There's no other option online, especially for myself as a deaf individual," Nick Siewertsen said.

Through an interpreter, students in the class talked with 10TV about why they take the class.

"This is a great option for my communication needs to be able to learn," Siewertsen said. "And, I do believe in my own skills that I have been improving over the course of being involved with this program."

Rae Trambaugh lives in Canton. She's a mother of three who says the classes help her whole family.

"I'm able to now communicate about these types of topics with my middle daughter because she's learning similar things in school," she said. "So, I'm able to help with her own work as well. It's benefited my family a lot."

Alison Clark, 42, plans on taking her new skills and going back to college.

"I had gone to college a few times and that didn't work out for me, but I actually took this class instead to try to increase my English language skills," she said.

Smith says the deaf are often underemployed or unemployed because of communication and literacy barriers but hopes this class is helping.

Smith wants to see the program expand to a two-semester course and, eventually, would like to see it offered online to high school students.

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