After hearing that Lenoir-Rhyne College, Hickory, N.C., would soon begin enrolling deaf students, Andrew Weisner spent the summer of 1977 learning to finger spell so he could communicate with his future classmates. “Before then I didn’t have the least bit of interest in sign language,” he said. “But once these four deaf students arrived ... it became a passion of mine.”
Weisner learned to converse in sign language simply by being with them in the cafeteria and at other gatherings. Today he continues to sign with deaf and hard-of-hearing students at Lenoir-Rhyne, where he’s been the campus pastor since 1995.
Lenoir-Rhyne has earned the reputation of a deaf-friendly community. In the last 30 years, more than 175 deaf and hard-of-hearing students have attended the ELCA school.
The college provides extensive support services, including note-takers for classes; specially equipped dorm rooms; real-time captioning for some events; and licensed interpreters or signers for classes, events, worship services and other activities. It also offers a deaf Bible study, Sign Troupe (a sign language performing group) and a deaf-awareness service organization called H.A.N.D.S. (Hearing and Deaf Signers). Lenoir-Rhyne also offers a deaf and hard-of-hearing education major.
The presence of deaf and hard-of-hearing students on campus “influences the campus in a rich way,” Weisner said.
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