By Maria Gomez
CCC Journalism Program
BLACKWOOD – Professor SallyAnn Emilius of Abington, Pa., has been teaching American Sign Language at Camden County College for 20 years. Born deaf and diagnosed with autism at an early age, she was told by her principal she would never make it past high school, but not only did she get her bachelor’s degree at Penn State University, but she went back for her master’s at St. Joseph’s University.
“I had a picture of me with my degree sent to the principal,” she says.
Early in life, Emilius struggled because she decided to stop signing and try to live a normal life in the hearing world.
“I signed early on in life, but when I was sent to a hearing school at third grade, I stopped signing. I was the only person in school that had a hearing loss, I wanted to be the same as everyone else, and I stopped signing for many years,” she says.
Many students picked on her for being deaf and the way she spoke; she spent many walks home crying. In high school, she had her “what was I thinking” moment and picked up signing again.
Coming from a hearing family, where she was the only one deaf, made things more difficult; lucky for Emilius she always had her sister by her side to push her forward when she needed a little motivation. They even went to graduate school together, getting their degrees together.
Deaf people generally do not see deafness as a negative, they embrace it. It can get very frustrating when other people do not understand what they are trying to say, but Emilius says, “People do not have the patience, I have had people yell at me or walk away from me when I could not understand what they were saying. What I find interesting is that the problem is not me. If I cannot be understood or I do not understand the person, we can always write it down. But that seems too hard or time consuming for people.”
Now a professor at CCC, married to a hearing man, with two hearing children, she considers herself lucky to be able to be part of the hearing world and the deaf culture.
A student in her ASL class, Alyssa Zepp, says, “I really learn a lot in ASL, she’s a good teacher and good at explaining everything, If we don’t understand it, she just writes it on the board.”