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April is Deaf History Month, but Wyoming lacks the resources to observe it

A person using American Sign Language

April is Deaf History Month. The objective is to raise awareness of Deaf and hard-of-hearing people’s struggles and highlight inclusivity and equal opportunities in a hearing society. However, there are no plans to officially observe the month in Wyoming.

Esther Hartsky, an American Sign Language (ASL) instructor at the University of Wyoming (UW), said there’s not much cultural impact from the Deaf community in the state, although there should be.

“It’s the State of Wyoming having an effect, negatively, on the Deaf community because of isolation, and because the resources aren’t available,” she said.

This occurrence is partially due to the fact that Wyoming has a small population, and the Deaf community’s population is even smaller. However, Wyoming is one of only a few states that does not have a commission for the Deaf and hard of hearing. The goal of the commission is to limit communication barriers between hearing and Deaf communities by providing communication resources, public education, and advocacy.

“Currently, and for the last five years, the Deaf and hard of hearing community [in Wyoming] have been trying to set up a commission so that the Deaf community members have a place that they can voice their concerns,” Hartsky said. “It’s frustrating that it has taken so many years and still has not been established.”

Hartsky thinks more Deaf community members and allies need to petition their local and state government officials to incentivize the implementation of a commission to the state of Wyoming.

Hartsky also encourages people to take some formal ASL classes to bridge the communication gap between hearing and Deaf people. Although courses are not abundantly available in the state, people can take courses at UW and Casper College.

“They’re proud of their language; they’re proud of their culture,” she said. “Be open to struggling through the communication.”

Nicole Dillon was born in Montana, raised in Sheridan, Wy, and currently resides in Laramie to attend the University of Wyoming. She is pursuing a concurrent degree in Communication and Journalism. After graduating this spring, Nicole hopes to teach English abroad before attending graduate school. She has written feature stories for the Sheridan Press in the past, and is eager to broaden her journalism and communication skills at WPM. In her spare time, she loves reading or doing yoga.
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