SULPHUR, Okla. – Oklahoma School for the Deaf senior Ashlei Miller from Ardmore is an official spokesperson for Deaf Awareness Week, celebrated worldwide from September 18 through 24.
According to 2019 U.S. Census-based estimates, 194,000 Oklahomans, all ages, or 5.0 percent have hearing disabilities
Deaf Awareness Week in Oklahoma was proclaimed by Governor Kevin Stitt to increase public awareness of Deaf culture, heritage and American Sign Language, which is unique to Deaf people.
Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services selected Miller, age 17, to represent Oklahoma.
“Back in the past, people weren’t as aware, but now they are becoming more knowledgeable and more interested in Deaf culture, in our community and sign language,” Miller said.
American Sign Language is expressed by movements of the hands and body, and facial expressions. Deaf people in the United States and parts of Canada primarily use ASL. Other countries have developed their own sign languages.
“I think that all people should know that Deaf people are in this world,” Miller added. “Maybe they don’t need to learn sign (language) specifically, but (they should) at least know about us as a community and as a culture. Interpreters too.”
Sign language interpreters must be fluent in ASL and English to effectively facilitate communication between people who are deaf and people who can hear, but do not sign.
Miller was born in Oklahoma City and moved to Ardmore with her family when she was in 5th grade to benefit from better communication options at Oklahoma School for the Deaf in Sulphur.
“When I was in the public school, I didn’t feel like I had as many opportunities,” Miller said. “But here (at OSD) I felt connected. I was involved in sports. I could work. I could hang out with friends. I could do anything.”
When she is not enjoying her favorite English class or playing basketball and soccer, Miller proudly represents OSD as the first official bison mascot at sports and community events. The new mascot was selected by a vote of students, staff and alumni in July 2021.
In April, Miller performed as the bison mascot at the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball game, distributed t-shirts and signed the national anthem with other OSD students.
Her favorite role model is Lauren Ridloff, a Deaf actress who portrayed Makkari, the first Deaf superhero in Marvel Studio’s 2021 film “Eternals.”
“She’s a wonderful role model Deaf character, and everyone knows her,” Miller said. “It just shows that if she can do it, we can do it.”
After graduation from OSD in May 2023, Miller plans to attend Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. She wants to become a basketball coach and teach sign language at a Deaf school or a public school. She is also interested in teaching about the Deaf community and culture.
“We’re all human in the same way,” Miller said. “We all have blood and bones. We want people to know that we are just as good — that we are the same in (having) that equal right. We can do things. We just can’t hear. That’s the only difference.”
Smart phones and devices make texting convenient for mutual communication. Hearing people who sign help to bridge communication gaps, however, are appreciated by the Deaf community.
“We’ll be patient. We’re understanding. We know that you are trying to communicate with us,” Miller said. “It doesn’t matter if you sign really well or not. What’s important to us is communication. Period.”
When asked about advice to share with other Deaf people, Miller said with a smile, “Just be yourself.”
In 2021, OSD educated 385 students through multi-campus locations, including 97 residential and day students at the campus in Sulphur, outreach services, FEELS Family Engagement, Early Learning Support and summer camps. OSD is a deaf education immersion school where students and staff communicate using both ASL and English. Spoken English is also a developmental focus for many students who use cochlear implants or hearing aids. More than 114,000 individuals attended OSD’s free online, pre-recorded ASL classes in 2021. Register now for OSD’s next 8-week, self-paced fall session beginning September 12 at https://courses.osd.k12.ok.us/.
OSD is a division of the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.
DRS’ Vocational Rehabilitation division operates two employment-oriented Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing offices that serve the state from Oklahoma City and Tulsa. DRS Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing counselors to communicate directly with clients using sign language or other techniques. Jobseekers may receive evaluations, career guidance and counseling, training, rehabilitation equipment or devices, and job placement assistance. Sign language interpreters from Services to the Deaf’s Interpreter Services Program support employment assistance programs. Staff also manage the Oklahoma Quality Assurance Screening Test program, which evaluates and certifies the proficiency of interpreters for the deaf in Oklahoma.
To find out more about Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, email [email protected] or call 800-833-8973 in Oklahoma City or 918-836-5556 in Tulsa.
Phone numbers are accessible by video phone, telephone and telecommunications equipment for the deaf.