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Building Bridges: Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center in Pharr Helps the Community
BY: Erin Runnels

PHARR, Texas – Located in a shopping center and nestled between other businesses on the same row is small sign for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center Pharr satellite office.

The center, and offshoot of the main office in Corpus Christi, offers the unusual service of trilingual interpreters, who are fluent in English, Spanish, and American Sign Language. They can switch between the three languages quickly so that everyone involved in a conversation knows what’s going on. 

 

Sarah Carrizales, a trilingual interpreter at the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center, also works part-time for STC (South Texas College). Her assignments are primarily for school, events and doctor's appointments. Carrizales acts as a bridge between the hearing world and the deaf world by making information more accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people. 


“It’s very essential because the only purpose of my job is to serve the community.” Carrizales said. “And it’s very frustrating for them to live in an area where they’re basically isolated because nobody speaks their language, they can’t do anything without an interpreter.” 


In South Texas, it is basically a requirement that all ASL interpreters know Spanish because of how common the language is in the region. Pharr, Texas is less than an hour away from Mexico and due to its close proximity to the country, it is heavily influenced by 


Mexican culture. This also affects how deaf and hard of hearing people are viewed in the region and brings up the conversation about the unique intersection between race and disability.  


According to Carrizales, it is common in Mexican culture for people to feel the need to do everything for the deaf or hard of hearing person because they lack the confidence that they can do that same thing for themselves.  


“So that Mexican culture coupled with the, ‘Hold on, you need to wait for an interpreter, hold on I can’t understand you, so you’re gonna have to put my needs first.’” Carrizales said. “So negative experience after negative experience kind of wears them down.” 


In addition to that, many deaf and hard of hearing people in South Texas have families that do not know ASL, she said. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. The deaf and hard of hearing center provides a safe space for them to socialize and connect with other people that understand them, which is important for their mental health and overall well-being.       


Given the lack of accessibility for deaf and hard of hearing people in many institutions like education, medical, finance and government, being independent is important to the community. Hearing people never have to think twice about how they are going to communicate before going to a doctor’s office or being in the classroom because information is easily accessible since everyone speaks the same language.  


“It’s easier for you to learn how to sign than it is for them to learn how to hear,” Carrizales said. “It doesn’t take that much effort to learn a few signs. Just a little bit of basic communication can make their day.” 

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