Deaf Empowerment Program student looks forward to continuing education at Mohawk this September
Colin Hayman has spent most of his life listening to others tell him what he couldn’t do. Now, after graduating from the Deaf Empowerment Program he plans to spend the rest of his life showing people what he can do.
This September the 36-year-old will start the two-year Electrical Engineering Technician – Power Program at the STARRT Campus in Stoney Creek. For Colin it’s the second part of a journey he started 18 months ago when he decided to obtain his grade 12 equivalency through the College’s the Deaf Empowerment Program (DEP).
Going back to school was a difficult decision for Colin. Born with a hearing loss, Colin grew up being told he couldn’t do this and he couldn’t do that because he was Deaf.
“I was always being told that I couldn’t do things,” says Colin, and he listened.
Thinking he could never do what he wanted to do, Colin struggled to find his place in life and ended up finding work in a warehouse, a job he could do, he says. In 2001, he left his home in rural Newfoundland and moved to Ontario where he continued to work in warehousing until a bad car accident followed by a series of layoffs caused him to rethink his career choice.
It wasn’t an easy decision and it was ultimately Colin’s wife Rebecca that helped convince him that going back to school was the right thing to do.
“He was always saying that he wanted to do something else, so one day we sat down and talked it over and I told him this is what he needed to do,” she says.
Neither could’ve guessed just how much of an impact the experience would have on Colin. Growing up, Colin was often left to fend for himself when it came to his education. He recalls teachers that would turn their backs to him as they were teaching a lesson, a move that for a Deaf child is about the equivalent of hitting the mute button.
Mohawk was the first time Colin felt accepted in the classroom, and seeing that the course was taught by deaf instructors gave Colin a huge boost in confidence, says Rebecca.
“I think it proved to him that he could do whatever he wanted to do,” she says.
It wasn’t easy at first. Colin’s car accident from a few years ago resulted in a brain injury that affected his memory and made it difficult for him to do certain subjects like math. But Colin persevered and ended up passing his final math exam with a 93.6% in the class, a mark that landed him a spot in the Electrical Engineering Technician - Power Program.
Bruce Belcher is the coordinator for DEP. Bruce is described by his friends and colleagues as someone who is relentless in his pursuit of helping others improve their education and make a better life for themselves. His passion for his craft earned him the 2011 ArcelorMittal Dofasco Excellence in Teaching Award from the Adult Basic Education Association, an honour bestowed on teachers who excel at their profession.
Bruce is also Deaf, which means he understands where his students are coming from and is very familiar with the challenges they face.
“Society looks at a Deaf person as being broken,” says Bruce, recalling his own experiences in life. “I’ve been teaching for 18 years and I prove them wrong every time.”
Over the years Bruce and his fellow DEP instructors, including Patrick Cross, have helped more than 300 Deaf people upgrade their education and increase their personal independence. The program takes about 15 students a year. This year there are 30 students in the program.
Teaching a Deaf class is much different than a traditional class, say Bruce. Courses are not taught in a lecture format. Instead they are taught in American Sign Language, with the same grammatical rules as the English language, a visual language used by Deaf people so they’re much more visual based, and tailored to the learning styles of the individuals in the class. The students also help each other to learn, and that creates a very strong bond between them and their instructors, he says. As a result students leave the program with a greater sense of self-confidence and feeling that they can be successful.
“Deaf Empowerment Program students leave the program with a much stronger sense of self and a greater understanding of their potential,” says Jim Vanderveken, Dean of Interdisciplinary Studies. “That’s the magic of this program is that it creates transformation in individuals.”
Colin is the first student to graduate from the program with his grade 12 equivalency, or ACE level. Mohawk is the only college to offer the ACE level for Deaf students in the province. The program began in 1991 and has been continuously funded by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU).
This year Mohawk is embarking on a community planning process to increase the level of service provided to the deaf community, says Jim. The College will work with community partners such as the Canadian Hearing Society, Ministry of Community and Social Services, Workforce Planning Hamilton, MTCU and the Path Employment Services to develop the plan.
When Colin returns to Mohawk in September he will face new challenges but he feels prepared to deal with them, and he will be supported by Accessible Learning Services throughout the program.
“I’m on my career path and if it wasn’t for Bruce, Patrick and the others I wouldn’t be here today,” says Colin. “There’s nothing stopping me from doing what I want to do now.”