Photo description: Wulf presents to attendees using sign language.
Photo credit: Josiah Seabaugh
Ashley Wulf, an advocate specialist at the Nebraska Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, shared with Concordia students her experience of growing up as a deaf individual and navigating accessibility barriers in education, language acquisition and travel.
Wulf received a cochlear implant when she was 18 months old yet has experienced accessibility barriers.
“Accessibility is access for everyone,” she said. “To me, accessibility means giving me language access.”
Wulf first attended school at the South Dakota School for The Deaf in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, about an hour from her home. A dwindling student population caused the school to close and re-open as an advocacy center.
The closing of schools for the deaf means deaf children may not be able to get the education guaranteed to them under federal law.
When Wulf transferred to the public school in her hometown of Estelline, South Dakota, she was the only deaf student.
“I had no interpreter. They used what we call an FM system,” she said. “The teacher had a special device with a microphone that was clipped to them that sent the messages to my device. But it didn’t work for me.”
Wulf was a student-athlete at the school but said there was “little social stimulation.”
“I was involved in sports but there were no opportunities or experience for peer socialization,” she said.
Wulf and her family knew attending a specialized school for deaf individuals would increase social opportunities so she transferred to the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf. She continued her passion for sports and was involved in volleyball and cheer. Wulf traveled to away games to compete and said she has fond memories of competing around the country.
“I attended there from my sophomore year to my senior year, she said. “I graduated from there; I was so happy.”
After graduating from the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf, Wulf went on to attend South Dakota State University for a year before transferring to Gallaudet University.
“I enjoy traveling and I fly a lot,” she said. “But as for the downside, I cannot hear anything they are saying over the intercom. I did also have a couple of times where someone had a wheelchair ready for me with my name on it.”
Wulf had some advice about navigating self-love in an ableist society. “Ignore what everybody says, and know that you are able to do things, prove them wrong,” she said. “Break through barriers. You are not the only one out there. I think that is what makes me know I can do it.”
Wulf said when talking with a deaf person students should “just be themselves.” She added that regardless of their knowledge of sign language, people’s good intentions will always shine through language barriers.
Wulf currently works with youth and family advocacy.