Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Indianapolis Student Bridges Deaf And Hearing Culture

    Gretchen Frazee / WFIU

    Margaret Katter participates in class at the Indiana School for the Deaf. Katter, who will graduate as the ISD's valedictorian this Spring, has an autoimmune disorder that adversely affects her hearing. She's not a candidate for cochlear implants, but Katter says she's glad she wasn't put in mainstream schools.

    When she was less than two years old, the Katters decided to teach their daughter sign language and enroll her in classes at the Indiana School for the Deaf (ISD) in Indianapolis. Neither of Margaret Katter’s parents is deaf, but her mom is a speech language pathologist and her aunt is an audiologist.

    “We’ve always said if God was going to bring a hard of hearing child into the world, there really wasn’t a better place than our family.”
    —Greg Katter, Margaret Katter’s Father

    “All along we’ve always said if God was going to bring a hard of hearing child into the world, there really wasn’t a better place than our family,” Margaret’s dad, Greg, says.

    Margaret was not born completely deaf. She was born with autoimmune inner ear disease—a condition where the brain thinks the inner ear is a pathogen and subsequently attacks it, causing progressive hearing loss. A couple years after Margaret was diagnosed, her brother David was also born with the disease.

    But that didn’t stop the Katter family. At a young age, Margaret learned to speak and after being fitted with hearing aids, was able to hear fairly well. Noisy environments can still be a problem, so that’s when the Katters switch to sign language, which everyone in their family has learned at least on a basic level.

    Taking Sides On Deaf Education

    Some, however, don’t agree with the Katters’ choice to teach their children sign language.

    “There were several occasions where we would be in public and we would be signing with our hard of hearing daughter who was wearing her hearing aids and could speak beautifully where people would come up to us and tell us we were being bad parents because we were signing with our heard of hearing daughter,” Greg Katter says.

    Greg says he think most people’s views are more moderate. He says those on the extremes tend to be more vocal and, therefore, attract more attention.

    “[ISD has] been supportive of me taking those classes that I need to graduate so I can better my education.”
    —Margaret Katter, Student At The Indiana School For The Deaf

    Margaret is now a senior in high school. For most of the day, she attends ISD, but for her first three classes, she attends Ben Davis High School where she takes Advanced Placement classes. She has been splitting her time between ISD and public schools for several years as a way to get the most out of her education.

    But ISD has become the center of a debate recently. A law passed the Indiana legislature this session transferring responsibility for deaf student services from the school to a new center for deaf and hard of hearing education. Unlike Margaret, many students at ISD have been deaf from birth and sign language is their primary means of communication.

    Those who support the new center say ISD advocates too heavily for sign language and deaf students do not get the opportunity to use oral communication from an early age.

    Experiencing Both Worlds

    But Margaret says the school provides all its students with a wide range of opportunities, and teachers and administrators have always encouraged her to take classes elsewhere.

    “Because of [ISD’s] budget being slashed so much, they don’t have the money to provide the higher level classes that I want to have and that I need to have for graduation,” Margaret says. “So I think they’ve been supportive of me taking those classes that I need to graduate so I can better my education.”

    By traversing the two worlds Margaret has learned the differences between the Deaf and hearing culture. While she appreciates the friends she has in public school, she says people are more open with each other in the Deaf community. She and her friends speak to each other more freely and can tease each other about things that might seem offensive among Margaret’s hearing peers.

    She has not decided where she will go to school next year but says she is looking at several top dancing schools, even some that are out of state. Margaret hopes one day to be able to teach dance to deaf and hard of hearing children because she says she was fortunate enough to have taken dance for most of her life.

    Read StateImpact’s earlier post on the debate taking place in the deaf community.


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