This fall, Williams College announced the matriculation of its first deaf student in recent memory, a member of the Class of 2014. To accommodate this student, Daniel Seita ’14, the College has reevaluated its academic resources and worked with Seita to put various novel measures in place.
“The staff member at Williams that worked most to secure my accommodations was [Director of Academic Resources] Joyce Foster,” Seita said. “As an extra aid, I will be using the academic resources center throughout the year.” Seita added that he also has benefited from the assistance of sign language interpreters. Foster was unavailable for comment.
According to Dean Sarah Bolton and Dick Nesbitt, director of admission, the College does not take applicants’ disabilities into account when assessing applications, choosing instead to work with students on accommodations after they are accepted.
“Students with disabilities are treated the same as anyone else in the application process,” Nesbitt said. “We look at each applicant holistically and take into account any life experiences they might have had that have helped to shape who they are.”
Nesbitt said that the College evaluated its accommodations for deaf students after Seita was admitted but before he decided to enroll.
“The institution is committed to having everything we do be accessible to every student who is admitted to and qualified to come to Williams,” Bolton said. “We’ve been working on figuring out what things need to be in place to make every aspect of Williams accessible to [Daniel] so he can thrive here. I’m sure it’s something that will evolve over time as he figures out what’s most helpful for him.”
As part of an initiative to educate the College community about deafness and the College’s accommodations, the College sponsored a lecture last Thursday called “Deafness: Everything You Wanted To Know But Were Afraid To Ask,” which featured Karran Larson from the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Larson was found to be hard of hearing at the age of seven and relayed some of her own experiences.
“Deaf people are as unique and as individual as you all are,” she said, going on to give a list of advice for talking to deaf people without sign language. Speak normally, not extra-slowly. Don’t cover your face. Make sure you are in a well-lighted area so they can see your expression and lips. Tap them or make a vibration on the table. Don’t shout to get their attention. Shift your facial expression or body language to signal a change in subject.
“[The lecture] was very interesting for me to hear issues of deaf culture and identity and how that resonates with other issues of culture and identity on campus,” Bolton said.
Seita agreed that the lecture was a success, noting that despite differences between himself and Larson, he identified with many of her points.
For Seita, the college search process led him to a choice between Williams and the Rochester Institute of Technology, which has its own college for the deaf, not to mention that its entire campus is fully serviceable to deaf students. According to Seita, though, Williams was an attractive option due in part to its “excellent education and high-quality students.” The College is only an hour’s drive from his home, which he considered another important factor.
“I also realized that the relatively small size of the school was a benefit in terms of getting accommodations,” he said.
Seita added that his Williams experience has been positive thus far, citing friendly junior advisors, entrymates, students and professors.
“My incredible WOOLF canoeing trip was the icing on the cake,” he said.
Positive and enjoyable do not quite mean perfect, however, as Seita said that he believes his experience has the potential to be better.
“For instance, there are many times where I really wish I could understand the conversations that happen in loud environments,” he said. “Furthermore, this lack of reception can apply to other circumstances, such as group discussions and parties. My hearing aids work best for me in a quiet environment, which can sometimes be hard to obtain.”