Texas School for the Deaf
With approximately 580 students, the Texas School for the Deaf (TSD) in Austin is one of the United States’ largest schools for the Deaf. Founded in 1856, the TSD began as a humble log cabin just south of the Colorado River. Later, a stately multi-story building, topped by two towers, was built and soon became an icon of the Austin skyline. Despite its landmark status, the building was torn down in 1956. The school is still located on the same land, however, and its current incarnation is no less impressive. Sprawling over nearly seventy acres, the TSD campus boasts dorms, large classroom buildings, several sports fields and auditoriums, a museum, and libraries.
Many of the newest buildings were designed using the concepts of DeafSpace: environments customized to meet the unique needs of deaf and hard of hearing individuals. For instance, wide hallways allow more space for signed conversations. And instead of loudspeakers, widescreen TVs are strategically placed throughout hallways and classrooms to broadcast announcements from students and faculty. Likewise, a series of colored lights are placed at intervals on the ceiling to serve as alerts. Flashing yellow lights mean an emergency is underway, whereas white lights mean all is OK. Blue and green lights signal the start and end of classes.
As Texas’ oldest continuously operating public school, the TSD has a fascinating history, memorialized in the school museum. For example, a black-and-white photograph of General Custer with former TSD students hangs near the entrance; while stationed in Austin, Custer liked to visit the deaf students and learn sign language. Other exhibitions feature artwork by Deaf artists and sports memorabilia from former Deaflympics competitors who were also TSD alumni.
The TSD’s comprehensive facilities and programs attract students from all over Texas. Because of the state’s size, students from El Paso and Amarillo are flown into the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport every Sunday for the school week, and flown back home on Friday afternoons. Likewise, Dallas and Houston students board buses for the three-hour drive home and back. Some families have even moved from out-of-state to take advantage of the TSD’s extensive and first-rate educational resources. Moreover, because Texas is one of only eleven states that permit parents and legal guardians to enroll their children in the TSD without a third-party referral such as their school district, parents enjoy more autonomy over their children’s schooling.
The TSD aspires to have a truly bilingual and bicultural community, where American Sign Language and English have equal status and use, both in and out of the classroom. To ensure full communication access, all staff members are required to take sign classes if they are not at a proficiency level necessary to meet their position’s communication responsibilities. The TSD offers ASL classes for staff members to help them improve their proficiency.
Above all, the TSD works with parents to assess and meet each student’s educational needs, beginning in the parent infant program that serves children from birth to age three, and continuing through high school or age 22, as appropriate. Some parents opt to keep their children in the TSD until graduation; other children are mainstreamed or moved to local programs for the deaf and hard of hearing. Still others may bounce back and forth between the TSD and other programs, depending on their needs.
The ones who stay have the opportunity to participate barrier-free in a wide variety of activities at the TSD: sports, clubs, student-run shops and publications, even international trips. Last year, the TSD sent six high school students to India where they visited temples, cities, and Indian Deaf communities.
The TSD does not limit their services to TSD students and families, however. Through outreach, there are resources and services provided for deaf and hard of hearing children, their parents, and the professionals who serve them throughout the state of Texas. True to their mission, the TSD strives to foster student growth and inclusion so that they can grow into a healthy and vibrant community for the next generations to come.