Sulphur, Okla. – Trudy and Jimmy Mitchell, a married couple who met in 1996 at Oklahoma School for the Deaf, are 2018 Deaf Awareness Week spokespersons for the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.
The purpose of Deaf Awareness Week, September 24-30, is to increase public awareness of deaf issues and culture. The culture is shaped by American Sign Language and experiences of being deaf in a hearing world.
The Mitchell’s both graduated from OSD in 1999 and now work in offices next to each other on the OSD campus in Sulphur.
Trudy Mitchell, who is hard of hearing, identifies as deaf, and speaks and signs in American Sign Language simultaneously.
She was promoted to OSD Dean of Students on August 1, She continues to be the dorm counselor responsible for helping students with behavior issues, at risk problems and curriculum that helps them develop life skills.
“Deaf culture to me is being together,” Trudy Mitchell said. “That is important to the deaf because of communication. We like to meet all the time here every year at homecoming or any big event. OSD is home for everyone. So being in a residential school is part of deaf culture.”
Jimmy Mitchell is deaf and uses ASL to communicate. He is a DRS Vocational Rehabilitation counselor helping OSD students prepare for employment and independent life through the Transition program.
Both OSD and Vocational Rehabilitation are divisions of the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.
“To me, deaf culture is a way of life,” Jimmy Mitchell said. “ASL -- that is my language now. That’s what I use most of the time. I want to help deaf and hard of hearing students to succeed and get a career in the hearing world.
“Here at the school, it is our culture to be almost like parents to those kids,” Jimmy Mitchell said through an interpreter. “They are part of who we are, so we have a huge interest invested in them. We want to make sure that they succeed at everything they do in life. That’s why I’m here.”
“I was so excited when I became the Dean of Students because I can relate a lot to the kids,” Trudy Mitchell said. “I grew up here, and I know what they are going through. I understand communication barriers, so when they come here I can help them.”
Communication technology, the Mitchell’s say, is rapidly bridging gaps between the deaf and hearing worlds, and improving opportunities for job seekers who are deaf.
“Texting and emailing are very, very important tools – as is the old-fashioned way, which is communicating with paper and pencil, but the video phone is best thing created for the deaf community,” Jimmy Mitchell said. “It’s just live, and we can see and communicate with each other on screen (using ASL).”
“You can choose what company you want and download it on your phone or your computer, and it’s all free,” Trudy Mitchell added. “It’s like (Apple’s) FaceTime. It’s also similar to Facebook video or Skype.”
OSD staff use an internal Cisco phone system with video capabilities.
Video phone companies can provide interpreters to communicate between ASL users and hearing people who do not sign. Some have Spanish speakers to translate.
“There is an app called Glide, and that’s how I communicate with my staff.…” Trudy Mitchell said. “They sign and send it to me, and I video myself signing and send it back to them.”
“Marco Polo is similar to Glide – it’s an app,” Jimmy Mitchell said. “Skype is a good tool also, and Zoom is for meetings. National Association of the Deaf, they all get together on the computer. They have videos of themselves (on the screen), and everybody is signing. It’s like a conference call.”
Jimmy Mitchell also uses a system called Ubiduo with two connected laptops to help students communicate during job interviews when interpreters are not available.
“I started here at OSD in 1985 when I was 5 years old,” Trudy Mitchell said. “I grew up here and lived in the dorm… until we graduated in 1999.”
Jimmy Mitchell was born hearing, but became deaf at age 5 after an illness.
“The doctors immediately referred me to an audiologist,” he said. “So I got a cochlear implant, but it just didn’t work for me. I was always frustrated….
“He started here in August 1996, and I started dating him in September.” Trudy Mitchell said. “I was a cheerleader, and he was a football player. A few of us were fighting over him, and I won, of course.”
“Everything that happened before I got to the School for the Deaf -- forcing me to speak -- I just didn’t feel right. I got here to this school, and it just changed. … This is where I’m supposed to be. I figured that out.”
The Mitchell’s married in June 2000. They have two sons, Tyler, 19, and Andrew, 15
She graduated from East Center University with a bachelor’s of arts degree in family consumer science and a master’s in Human Resources Administration.
Jimmy earned a bachelor’s of arts degree in human resources and master’s of science in human resources/vocational rehabilitation, both from ECU.
“Actually today is our anniversary, and we’ve been together for 22 years,” Trudy Mitchell said.
“It’s not a wedding anniversary -- it’s when we started dating,” Jimmy Mitchell explained. “She has to have two different anniversaries.”
For more information about Oklahoma School for the Deaf, contact 888-685-3323 toll free or visit www.osd.k12.ok.us.
Oklahoma School for the Deaf is a free deaf education immersion schools for students, pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade, without barriers to communication. Students meet all the graduation requirements mandated for students attending other public schools, but also benefit from specialized instruction and extracurricular activities, including competitive sports, leadership programs and academic team competition. Staff and students communicate directly (without interpreters) using American Sign Language, however, many students utilize cochlear implants or hearing aids. As the statewide resource center on deafness, OSD provides thousands of free outreach services to public school students, the families and educators in their local schools.