ASL teacher finds home at Whatcom

Story by Anna Browne


Photo by Anna Browne
Photo by Anna Browne


Lewis, who is deaf, said through an interpreter that she has come to love Whatcom and enjoys her job. She said that she loves everything about the college, especially how easy it is to receive and use an interpreter when needed.

“Whatcom feels like a very comfortable environment,” Lewis said. “I feel like I belong here.”

Lewis, 48, said she has been teaching American Sign Language for 25 years.

Lewis is one of 11 children, and said that she and her sister are the only two people who are deaf in their family, and were the only deaf people in their hometown, Omaha, Neb.

Lewis’ mother unknowingly had a case of rubella when she was pregnant, Lewis said, which can cause deafness and blindness in infants. Lewis said her family found out that she was deaf at a young age.

Lewis said she knows a lot of people who are deaf that were not taught sign language, and as a result had to learn to read lips to communicate.

“We were blessed to be given a real language,” Lewis said of her and her sister.

Lewis said she grew up in Nebraska, and for the first 12 years of her life she attended a public school. Isolated from the rest of students in a self-contained class, Lewis said she had to rely on hearing aids, which she found very difficult because at that time she was almost completely deaf.

In public school Lewis said she wasn’t very involved and felt restricted in what she could do. Her parents enrolled her in public school even though they lived near the Nebraska School for the Deaf. When they finally gave her the opportunity to attend the school for the deaf, Lewis said she was very excited.

“In deaf school I learned American Sign Language and I learned about deaf culture,” Lewis said. “I was involved in everything.”

At her new school, the teachers were deaf and everybody signed, and Lewis said deaf school improved her communication and social skills. With only ten people in her class, Lewis said she felt as if they were all one family.

“My parents were giving me a ride home one day when they asked if I wanted to go back to public school at all,” Lewis said. “I said ‘no, no, no – I want to stay at the deaf school.’ I had found my place.”

When Lewis was 17-years-old, she said she worked as a librarian as a summer job.

“I hated the job,” Lewis said. “It was so boring.”

Lewis said that she attended Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. *check ap style*, which was the first deaf university in the United States.

“When I was young I didn’t want to go to Gallaudet,” Lewis said. “I wanted to try something more challenging. But as I got older I did go to Gallaudet, and got a Bachelor of Arts in psychology.”

Even though Lewis wanted to be an American Sign Language teacher, she got her degree in psychology because she said it was important to her that she works with people.

“I studied psychology because of people,” Lewis said. “I really like people.”

During her time at Gallaudet, Lewis said she worked as a peer teacher and a tutor, tutoring students in French and math.

After getting her degree in 1988, Lewis said she worked at Bellevue College in Wash. teaching American Sign Language.

Lewis said she loves to go camping, snow-skiing, and loves water activities such as boating. She said she recently found she enjoys cooking as well.

“Last year I had cancer, so I focused on what I was eating,” Lewis said. “I started to eat a diet of raw food. It takes up a lot of time and it’s a lot of work, but I felt like it saved me.”

Lewis said she is very passionate about sticking to her new diet, only consuming raw food, and that she drinks lots of vegetable juice each day to keep her body strong.




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