SULPHUR– Oklahoma School for the Deaf Director of Education Manda Chebultz is an official spokesperson for Deaf Awareness Week, celebrated worldwide from Sept. 23-29.
The purpose of Deaf Awareness Week’s purpose is to increase public awareness of Deaf culture, heritage and American Sign Language, which are unique to deaf people.
Chebultz, who is deaf, directs educational programming to ensure that OSD students’ needs are met on the campus in Sulphur and at satellite pre-schools in Edmond and Chickasha.
“We follow the same high academic expectations that other schools have for our students, but we also provide socialization and emotional development with our cultural environment here. We have a family system where we watch kids grow and develop with us here at the school,” she said.
“The most important thing is that students have access to language as a human right.”
Chebultz’s family has a long history as educators at OSD.
Her husband Travis’ Chebultz’s grandparents, Richard and Rosemary Mullins, moved from Montana to Sulphur because OSD allowed both parents to teach at the school.
Her mother-in-law Lauren Mullins graduated from OSD in 1976. Chebultz and her husband started school there at age 3.
“The school is our home really,” Chebultz explained.
Chebultz began her career in 2010 as a volunteer and progressed to substitute teaching before accepting teaching positions of special needs elementary students and later kindergarten students. She also served as elementary school principal.
She earned a bachelor’s of science degree in early childhood education in 2009 and a master’s degree in educational leadership in 2016, both from East Central University in Ada.
Today Travis Chebultz works in OSD’s maintenance department. Their son Adrian Chebultz is beginning his career at the school as a teaching assistant, representing the fourth generation dedicated to deaf education at OSD.
The Chebultz family includes three other children who are deaf, Kayleah, Tosh and Zoey.
“Of course, all the education that I have gotten here at Oklahoma School for the Deaf prepared me for my future with academic and emotional growth to become person I am now,” Chebultz said. “I owe all of that to Oklahoma School for the Deaf.
“When I graduated and I left, the Deaf community welcomed me and I continued to be involved in the community activities and stayed involved at the national and state level as well,” she said. “There was a path that was developed for me that made it easier for me.
“My hope now is that deaf individuals in the next generation feel that they are not limited to working only with a Deaf friendly environment. It might be possible to succeed in any environment, even if I’m dealing directly with hearing individuals….
“As we make paths for the next generation, it’s important to try to share that experience and pass that down in our Deaf community and culture to make sure that our experiences, and our challenges and our successes are effective for others as well….” Chebultz said.
OSD is a division of the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.
DRS’ Vocational Rehabilitation division operates Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing offices focused on employment and self-sufficiency that serve the state from Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
DRS Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing counselors’ specialized training in hearing and speech disabilities enables them to communicate directly with clients using sign language or other techniques. Jobseekers may receive evaluations, career guidance and counseling, training, rehabilitation equipment or devices, and job placement assistance. Sign language interpreters through Services to the Deaf’s Interpreter Services Program support this employment assistance. Staff also manage the Oklahoma Quality Assurance Screening Test program, which evaluates and certifies the proficiency of interpreters for the deaf in Oklahoma.
In 2019, the number of clients who are deaf or hard of hearing placed in employment increased 10 percent compared to 2018. The number of employment plans developed by staff is 1,776% this year due to many clients being moved from waiting lists to active caseloads. .
Services to Deaf will sponsor a social media campaign for Deaf Awareness Week. The focus will be promoting Deaf culture and heritage, cards that help Deaf drivers communicate with law enforcement and programs that certify interpreters for the deaf in Oklahoma.
“Staff will also share information at an exhibit booth on Thursday for Deaf Awareness Day at the Oklahoma State Fair and DAY, DATE, during Deaf Awareness Day in Tulsa,” Terry Williams Murphy, DRS Vocational Rehabilitation field service coordinator, said.
According to U.S. Census-based estimates developed by Cornell University, 8,560 Oklahomans or 5.2 percent have hearing difficulties. The data indicates that 51.2% of working-age Oklahomans with hearing difficulties, ages 21-64, are employed compared to 36.5% of Oklahomans with other disabilities.
To find out more about Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, email SDHH@okdrs.gov or call 800-833-8973 in Oklahoma City or 918-836-5556 in Tulsa.
The phone numbers are accessible by phone, video phone and telecommunications equipment for the deaf.