Student raises awareness of deaf culture

By Lindsie Wagner

The simple task of looking down to take notes during class can mean missing a part of the lecture for junior Brian McPartland, who was born deaf and relies on an interpreter to understand lectures.

McPartland is the first deaf student to attend Whitworth in more than 20 years, he said. He is also one of very few deaf students who choose to go to a mainstream college rather than a college for the deaf, such as Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.

“I was unsure of coming here because it would be my first time away from family, and that was going to be hard,” McPartland said.

That has made the experience of coming to Whitworth difficult at times, but McPartland said the community here is usually eager to learn about his situation and do their best to help him.

McPartland said he has encountered a lot of people who assume he can’t communicate in English.

“I’ve had people come up to me and tell me that they want to learn how to communicate with me,” he said. “I just say ‘Oh, cool,’ and they get this shocked look on their face because they didn’t expect me to talk.”

Since McPartland can lip read extremely well, he said he has an easier time communicating with his hearing peers than other deaf people do.

This ability, as well as his ability to speak and sign, is because his mother sent him to many sign language and speech classes as a child.

To help Whitworth students, faculty and staff understand what it means to be deaf, and also to help them learn sign language in an out-of-class setting, McPartland has decided to start the Sign Language Club.

“I’m hoping to make the community more deaf-accessible,” McPartland said. “I want to inform students about the deaf culture. You have to understand the pain. The things that you enjoy — music, they can’t hear; movies, they have to rely on the graphic special effects because they can’t hear the cool sounds.”

The one place that McPartland said his deafness doesn’t come into play is in the baseball diamond. McPartland began playing sports when he was younger as a way to connect with his father, and he now plays baseball for Whitworth.

“In the game, it doesn’t matter if you can hear or not,” he said. “It matters if you can play. It’s a game where I can step away from life itself and do something I enjoy.”

McPartland said his ability to play sports is due to a series of great coaches from an early age.

“It depends on the coaches,” he said. “They have to be willing to work with [deaf] kids. They have to be willing to show something to the deaf player that they just explained to the rest of the team.”

McPartland said he hopes to eventually have the chance to coach children’s sports so that he can not only communicate with both deaf and hearing players, but also encourage more deaf children to get involved.

An engineering physics major, McPartland said his dream job would be to work at Boeing someday because it has a program for deaf employees.

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