The Magazine for Alumni and Friends of the University of Wyoming
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Laramie, WY 82071-2000
Associate Lecturer Todd Corbett is passionate about deaf culture and civil rights. Ask him about this topic, and he will speak—in American Sign Language—eloquently and expressively. He has a lot to say on the subject from both his personal experiences and his education, which includes a bachelor’s degree from UW and a master’s degree from Lewis & Clark College in deaf education. For 14 years, he’s been teaching American Sign Language and deaf studies at UW.
“I was born in Riverton, Wyo., into a family of hard-working, blue-collar workers with no college degrees,” Corbett says. “When I was born, I had no hearing.
“They had never had any experience with a deaf individual until my arrival. It just shocked them. My grandfather Howard saw how intelligent I was. He helped my parents to change their thoughts about my deafness from negative visions to more healthy and positive visions for my future. I am very grateful to my grandfather Howard for that.”
However, Corbett was not able to communicate with his family in a meaningful way and didn’t learn American Sign Language until he was 13, making him a strong advocate for teaching deaf children sign language from an early age. He also wants hearing people to understand that deaf people have a strong culture, and the focus shouldn’t be on trying to “fix” their ears or making them hearing or speaking in the verbal sense. If you think reading lips is easy, Corbett urges you to mute your television and try to decipher what people are saying.
“I want to bring deaf people and hearing people together and increase the awareness of deaf culture,” he says. “Just treat people as human beings—that’s my mission. If they sign, sign with them. Don’t be afraid of using your hands.”
Corbett sees how important teaching is for students, especially in deaf studies and American Sign Language courses. “My students become more well-informed visual learners,” he says. “They keep their eyes on me the whole class time. I have no problem keeping their attention in classes, especially when the class is so quiet due to a lack of verbal exchanges.”
He adds that social workers, nurses and countless other professionals will need sign language in their careers.
If you see Corbett around campus, say “hello”—it’s just a simple wave from your forehead.
IMPACT: Passionately educating students and the greater community about deaf culture and sign language.