Columbia Deaf community forms unique culture, advocates for awareness

Kristal said: “It totally changed how I interact with people, deaf and hearing. I have so much confidence in who I am, and I’m proud to be a part of this culture.”

Engaging in Deaf culture meant finding refuge in people who understood him and identified with him, said Hayden Kristal, a deaf student at MU.

Kristal was born deaf and grew up speaking and integrated into mainstream culture, which he referred to as “oral.” He didn’t participate in Deaf culture, which is characterized by American Sign Language usage and sharing in a lived deaf experience, until he came to MU. It was like seeing in color for the first time, Kristal said.

“It totally changed how I interact with people, deaf and hearing,” Kristal said. “I have so much confidence in who I am, and I’m proud to be a part of this culture.”

Learning ASL became necessary when Kristal started his education at MU’s large campus and no longer could rely on lip-reading or individualized support from his teachers and parents.

Kristal turned to the Greater Columbia Association for Deaf and to Dr. Stephanie Logan, a leader in Missouri ASL education and deaf culture, for support. The association, Logan and others in the deaf community provided him with role models of deaf success, which encouraged him to pursue ASL, Kristal said.

Logan teaches ASL courses through MU’s Communication Science and Disorders department for students on campus. She also provides classes for individuals in Columbia who seek personal and professional development or are curious about Deaf culture.

The unique experience of being deaf or hard of hearing results in values and customs that differ from hearing culture. Logan said eyes and hands are precious parts of the body to deaf individuals. She also explained how conversations between deaf people can go on for long periods. It’s hard to separate from one another because finding a deaf person to connect with is not common; whereas hearing people can talk to practically anyone.

Logan, who lost her hearing at 23 years old due to a spinal illness, creates a mainly silent environment in her ASL classrooms and pushes her students to learn the language through immersion.

“I can't take the people that I teach into the deaf world unless they're silent in the classroom,” Logan said. “It creates so much anxiety for hearing people, they really flip out.”

MU students do cultural observations such as going to an event interpreted in ASL. Logan said many times experiences in the deaf community and taking the ASL class has led to students pursuing futures in deaf services.

“To have had a tiny fraction of an impact on an individual’s life that causes them to change the course of action and what they were pursuing in their life is so extraordinary, and I take that responsibility very seriously,” Logan said.

While in the hospital for Logan’s spinal illness, leaders in the deaf community visited her and showed her support. Their outreach inspired her to learn sign language and work to provide programs and services for the deaf community.

Logan is the executive director of The Leadership through Education & Advocacy for the Deaf, which provides mental health and crisis intervention services for deaf Missourians. The center offers support, people to connect with and advocacy for deaf victims of violence, assault, rape and abuse.

Kristal agreed and said deaf people need a high level of “mental fortitude” to deal with daily barriers to resources. He said this can be especially hard for people already struggling with depression and other illnesses. Knowing how to get an interpreter or use interpreting resources in town like Access Interpreters LLC and Columbia Interpreting Services should be something counseling centers, hospitals, and other service centers should be educated about.

The Missouri Committee for Deaf and Hard of Hearing, in addition to certifying interpreters and connecting individuals to services like vocational rehabilitation, works to educate state legislators about deaf community needs.

They are currently lobbying for Senate Bill 1048 that would provide grants for training and certification of new support service providers, individuals who help deaf and blind individuals better navigate their environments.

Kristal travels to higher education campuses to tell about the intersection of his identities being a transgender deaf man. He knows many people don’t understand or think about what being deaf means, and his goal is to increase awareness.

“The reason I do it is because it's the best way I can pay forward the gift that the deaf community here gave me,” Kristal said. “They gave me so much control and freedom and empowerment over my own life. I’ll never be able to pay them back for that. The best thing I can do is help provide the tools for somebody else in the Deaf community to feel empowered.”

Edited by Hailey Stolze |

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