Text building program aids deaf students

Sena Schmidt

Since its founding in 1947, Pierce College has become an institution for nearly 19,000 students a year who are enrolled in over 100 different disciplines.

Among Pierce’s many courses, departments, professors and services from which to choose are a small but excelling number of deaf students eagerly striving for the same opportunities as any other student on campus.

Norman Crozer, director of special services at Pierce, aids these students during their time here by helping them enroll in specific courses specially designed to help them succeed despite their disability and despite the need for more sign language interpreters.

Because of the increasing number of companies using video phones with interpreters on the other end instead of the more outdated teletypewriters (TTY), there is a dire need for more interpreters on campus.

Sorenson, the business that created these video phones, pays their interpreters more money, including benefits.

“[Sign language interpreters] are the most needed service and the most expensive,” Crozer said.

But the biggest problem now seems to be holding onto the 25 interpreters Pierce already has.

“Even if I wanted to pay them more I couldn’t,” Crozer admitted. “The school district has set salaries for everyone.”

Fortunately, there is a software program for the deaf that Crozer himself began creating 15 years ago and continues to upgrade that he uses in the two specialized English classes and vocabulary class that he teaches to his deaf students.

“Nobody else in the state is doing this,” Crozer said.

Named the “Text Builder 1,” this series of typing programs is designed to help the deaf build their writing skills while simultaneously correcting their mistakes.

“The program tries to replicate what regular people who learn languages at an early age do by hearing,” Crozer explained. “The deaf don’t have that option so this teaches them through constant repetition.”

The series has eight levels with a cumulative test after each is completed successfully and during the levels, the program gives the student instant feedback of their errors.

“The students, at first, don’t like it,” Crozer said. “Then they realize, ‘I’m actually learning something’.”

The students in these specialized courses use this program throughout the entire semester for an hour-and-a-half each class session.

“The program makes them think,” said Crozer.

The reason why this software is not used in more schools, Crozer guessed, is that most teachers tend to teach the way they were taught.

“They don’t think a computer can teach you anything,” he concluded.

Crozer’s work today as a deaf studies professor came about “accidentally” when he was approached by an interpreter at CSUN, where he graduated with a B.A. in math, who told him that his interaction with the deaf was remarkable and advised Crozer to be a teacher for them.

Crozer eventually learned sign language and began his career working for a high school for the deaf in West Covina for four years before continuing his career at Pierce.

“That one little comment changed my life,” Crozer remembered. “I never thought I’d become a teacher let alone a teacher for the deaf.”

Crozer is also a member of the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Advisory Group for the Chancellor’s Office for the California Community Colleges, located in Sacramento.