Hear Our Voices: Deaf/Hard of Hearing Community share their experiences 

What’s it like to live in a world without noise?

The American Sign Language Club hosted its main event of the semester: ASL Night Out, a panel consisting of members from the deaf and hard of hearing community in the Ostrander Auditorium where the individuals shared experiences living in the hearing world. 

The panel consisted of members from Minnesota State and the Mankato area; assistant ASL professor Kari Sween, adjunct ASL instructors Joel Sween and Sara Gerdts, and community members Mark Thompson, Tracy Bell-Slater and Curt Slater. 

A surprise addition to the panel was the inclusion of CODAs, or children of deaf adults, where the children shared experiences in what it’s like to be a CODA. 

They all aimed to educate both MSU students and Mankato community members on the differences of how they live their lives.

Kari Sween is an advocate for social justice and said she wanted to share awareness about “implicit and explicit bias that comes with assumptions people have about deafness.”

“I believe if deaf people share their life experiences with others, it puts things in perspective and hopefully makes a long-lasting impact,” Sween said. 

The panelists discussed how they first discovered they were deaf, what education they received as a deaf person, socializing with hearing individuals, finding aid with technological advancements, finding community among other deaf/hard of hearing individuals and facing misconceptions and discrimination in public places and workspaces, a keypoint greatly highlighted by Sween.

“Hearing people usually think that deaf people are less than because they cannot hear. This means they think deaf people don’t have a ‘voice’ but we do. We express our ‘voices’ differently by using our hands,” she said. “This also applies to people who have a small degree of hearing loss, they can use their voice to share the awareness that hard-of-hearing people do face difficulties as well.”

Despite the challenges faced, the deaf/hard of hearing community continues to share a culture among its members, which greatly has and will continue to impact the lives of many deaf/hard of hearing people. 

Sween said how she “would love to see hearing people in general gain a better understanding of what entails in the deaf community.” 

“Learn about the rich history of deaf culture. Be more active when you see something is not right, we appreciate all the advocacy work. I like it when we work together side by side to make the world a better place for future generations instead of having hearing people stand in front of us thinking they can do all the work,” Sween said. 

“Oftentimes, hearing people have this ‘hearing savior complex’ thinking that deaf people are helpless which could make the situation worse because then people will only rely on hearing facts from hearing people, not deaf people.”

For people who wish to become better allies to the deaf/hard of hearing community, Sween suggests to “keep your mind and heart open to decrease the resistance to what you already learned before”. 

“Usually, this means that hearing people have a prior experience with deaf people and think when they encounter deaf and hard of hearing, it will be the same experience. It will not be the same and it is hard not to stereotype because we have a human tendency to bundle a cultural minority group together,” she said. “Sometimes, we need to unpack what we learned and keep our minds open for a new learning experience.”

Several members of the ASL club participated in leading the panel. ASL president Anna Symens and vice president Zoe Porter shared how important it was to have deaf/hard of hearing people share their stories to the hearing world, with Symens saying how glad the club was to put on the panel and saw that “it did serve its purpose.” 

“The purpose of the panel was to spread awareness of the deaf community, deaf culture and see it from their perspective and their families and friends, the CODAs or the child of deaf adults and I think they really serve that,” Symens said. 

“We just wanted to get the deaf and hard of hearing voices out there and educate people on what it’s like to be part of the community. And spreading the word about ASL and how it’s not meant to be seen as an impairment. It’s no different than English. It’s just another language,” Porter said.

Along with Symens and Porter, treasurer Courtney Young and social media manager Abby Strong shared their thoughts on the purpose of the ASL and deaf panel. 

“It was to definitely allow the community to see it in a different way. I bet a lot of people in the audience may haven’t gotten an opportunity to hear from their perspective like that before,” Young said. “It was good. Even for me too, I had not heard some of the things that they’re talking about and I thought it was really interesting and kind of brought a new perspective to it.”

“Opening up to people’s eyes and seeing their perspectives, especially as a student who is earning her ASL certificate, it was cool to hear people in the community and learn more about their story and what they’ve gone through growing up,” Strong said. 

There are ways to provide accessibility and services to Deaf and Hard of Hearing people, such as close captioning, figuring out the best ways to communicate and Sween mentions deaf and hard of hearing people appreciating “when hearing people take the initiative to ask questions”.

Sween said there are ways for students to spread awareness on campus already. 

“You can take ASL and Deaf Studies classes. When you see something not right, speak up and be a difference-maker. Educate others who may not know much about deaf people and their culture. Getting the answers directly from a deaf and hard-of-hearing person is the best way to learn and spread awareness,” Sween said

For more information on the ASL Club, visit 

Write to Anahi Zungia at

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