Deaf Awareness Week breaks through sound barrier

Months of hard work and painstaking organizing paid off this week for ASL Program Coordinator Keri Ogrizovich, when the kick-off event for UVM’s Deaf Awareness Week (DAW) began as a big success.Beginning Oct. 5, DAW launched into a weeklong series of speakers, presentations and events to promote awareness about Deaf Culture.According to the program website, DAW’s scheduled events include an ASL game night, skit night, movie night and a roundtable lunch and discussion on deafhood.DAW began as Deaf and Disabilities Awareness Week when it was founded 13 years ago by Laurel Cameron at ACCESS, located in Living/Learning A-High.When Cameron retired 10 years later, Ogrizovich stepped in to take responsibility for the events, Ogrizovich said.Although deafness and disability were initially lumped together in the planning of the original event, Ogrizovich felt that DAW should continue separately, considering that deaf people do not consider themselves disabled, she said.Ogrizovich plans all of the events on her own, she said, including contacting all the guest speakers, raising the funds through sponsors — including Sprint Telecommunications, Vermont Registry of the Deaf, the UVM Communication Sciences department and the UVM Nursing Development — and making the appropriate reservations.”It’s hard work doing this on my own, but it’s worth it because UVM students, staff and faculty gain so much knowledge and awareness about deaf people and Deaf Culture, which is the goal of DAW,” Ogrizovich said.The first event of DAW was a presentation on Monday night by keynote speaker Sue Thomas, a deaf author who formerly worked for the FBI.After retiring, Thomas launched a television show called “FBEye,” based on her own life asa deaf individual.The show gave her the platform she required to become a motivational speaker and to reach out to the Deaf community, Thomas said.”I am here to make you think, to break the sound barrier,” Thomas said. “I am here to make you contemplate others’ walks of life.”ASL students enrolled in Ogrizovich’s classes were required to attend events of DAW in order to interact with the Deaf community, juniors Jillian Brash and Nicci Tucker said.”It’s the only way you can really understand,” Brash said.For Ogrizovich, the importance of promoting awareness among the UVM community is extremely relevant given that there are more than 20 deaf students on campus.”Deaf students have experienced oppression and have been bullied for so long that it’s not easy for them to reach out to others because they don’t know who to trust,” Ogrizovich said. “Students can be more involved in the Deaf community by taking ASL courses, by attending Deaf Awareness Week events, by attending Deaf community events and by including deaf students as much as possible.”Ogrizovich said that everyone who participates will walk away with a new awareness, a new passion or even a new friend, and the events provide both learning and social opportunities about deaf people and Deaf culture.