FlagSHIP Deaf EcoSystem Course Creates Bridges Between Communities

Flagler Professors June Ann LeFors and Jennifer Catalano stand in front of a project screen for a presentation.
April 1, 2022
By Lauren Piskothy
Flagler Professors June Ann LeFors and Jennifer Catalano created the FlagSHIP Deaf EcoSystem Course with the sole mission of further connecting Flagler College to the Deaf community of St. Augustine. Their goal in creating the course was to teach students ways that local businesses can be more inclusive to Deaf individuals. With the help of Flagler- alumni owned local businesses, they’ve been able to do just that.

“The FlagSHIP Deaf Ecosystem course is another way we can create bridges between our communities, find common ground, and celebrate our diversity!” said Jennifer.

June Ann continued, “Deaf Ecosystem is about enabling empowerment and economic mobility of Deaf and hard of hearing individuals.”

Launching this course was especially important to June Ann and Jennifer given the rich histories of both Saint Augustine and the Deaf culture, education, and community.

“Flagler College has had a Deaf Education major for 50 years and, with the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind (FSDB) just two miles down the road, Saint Augustine is a thriving Deaf Community,” said June Ann.

One of the many great aspects of the course, in addition to creating a more inclusive and accessible community for Deaf individuals, is that it provides a great opportunity to partner with local Flagler alumni business owners. So far, four local businesses have participated in this course: Where Salt Meets Soul, Stone Climbing, Monarch Studio, and Panama Hat Company. All of which June Ann and Jennifer credit with massively contributing to the course’s success.

Students provided these local businesses with a multitude of ideas for improving accessibility and inclusiveness. For instance, students suggested to the staff of Stone Climbing, that they should learn some basic ASL signs for “Need help” and proposed they use flashlights to guide climbers up and down the wall. At Where Salt Meets Soul, students came up with the idea to arrange and offer a music night once a month with an interpreter.

All of the students suggested these companies use text-to-speech apps to communicate with their Deaf customers and to teach their staff basic ASL signs such as, “Welcome,” “Can I help you?” “Thank you,” and more. All of which will massively improve Deaf individual’s customer experience.

June Ann continued, “As these businesses generate more business and collaborations with Deaf individuals and hire Deaf employees, they are contributing to the Deaf Ecosystem.”

However, the success of this course is largely attributed to the dynamic duo who teaches it. Between Jennifer and June Ann’s combined educational and lived experiences: June Ann is Deaf, and Jennifer has over 30 years of experience with the Deaf community, they knew they’d make a great team. Together they’ve been able to not only initiate awareness and promote accessibility for the Deaf community, but provide students with a truly, “transformative educational experience that puts learning and interacting across communities of difference at its core,” according to the pair.

This course serves as an introduction to the Deaf culture and community for a lot of Flagler students. The students who have had the pleasure of taking this course expressed how heavily they were influenced by its impact on the community in their course evaluations:

“This course and the professor that taught it was/were very insightful to the material and the meaning of Deaf Ecosystem overall. I am extremely pleased with how much I have learned, and I can't wait to use what I learned in this course in my everyday life,” one student said.

Another student said, “Having one hearing professor and one deaf professor was great because we got to learn from both sides and two different perspectives. Everything was very organized, and the instructors really cared about the topic and really wanted us to learn and take something away from the course. I wish this course was a regular semester class so I could take it!”

Jennifer and June Ann were thrilled at the opportunity to teach this course and are very excited to teach it again in the near future. The FlagSHIP Deaf EcoySystem course was so successful that it has recently been approved to run again in January and May of 2023 and Jennifer and June Ann are actively seeking local businesses to work with come next Spring semester in January and May.

“If any alumni who own local businesses are interested in partnering with us next year, please contact us at jlefors@flagler.edu or jcatalano@flagler.edu. We look forward to teaching this course again in the future and partnering with other local Flagler College alumni-owned businesses!”

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