A couple of weeks ago, Micah broke his wrist trying to land a skateboarding trick. Despite the setback, he’s recently decided he wants to become a pro-skater, and yesterday I caught him googling “skateboard college.” He watches X-Games online, styles his hair long, wears ripped Vans sneakers and sports his Volcom hat backwards. While I don’t want to burst his bubble, we’ve discussed that becoming a professional at skateboarding involves far more than dressing like a skater. I imagine it takes years of dedicated practice, and years of falling on your face.
He’s entertained several other possible career paths—standup comedian, chef, comic book artist. As parents, I think there’s a tension between encouraging our kids to dream big and encouraging them to set realistic goals. So while we’re sending Micah to skateboarding camp this summer, he’ll also be participating in a week-long STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) camp with The Family Center on Deafness.
Because of communication barriers and discrimination, preparing deaf and hard-of-hearing students for employment has always been a challenge. In the United States, deaf and hard-of-hearing workers earn only 75% the salary of their hearing peers. 
This salary inequality, however, was not always the case.
In the early 1820’s residential schools for the deaf highly stressed vocational training in everything from gardening to cabinetmaking. Students spent hours each day learning practical skills like bookbinding, shoemaking, tailoring, horticulture, wood engraving, mechanical drawing, weaving, and printing. Vocational training was entrenched in American schools for the deaf, because they focused on preparing students to become working members of society.
While the glory days of manufacturing jobs are gone, I have a lot of hope for today’s deaf and hard-of-hearing students who are pursuing careers in STEM.
According to the Education Coalition in Washington, D.C., “The future of the economy is in STEM.” Careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are outpacing other fields, so much so, that some projections estimate a shortage of 5 million workers in those fields by 2020. Although filling these jobs with qualified workers is a daunting problem for big tech companies like Apple or Amazon, this is exciting news for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community and here are 7 reasons why:
- Deaf and hard-of-hearing workers in STEM careers earn 31% more than deaf workers in non-STEM careers.  Research shows there are clear economic benefits for DHH students to be employed in STEM.
- Articulate speech and hearing are not job requirements for advanced-level careers in computer coding and many other STEM-related fields.
- The Gallaudet Molecular Genetics Laboratory (MGL) is designed, staffed, and managed by deaf scientists and offers paid summer internships for deaf students, where MGL provides deaf mentors and real-life research and lab experience.
- Math is a visual language, and at four-year colleges, 17% of DHH students major in math, computer science, engineering, and technology compared to 18% of the general population. 
- Findings by Walter, Clarq, & Thompson (2002) show that deaf and hard-of-hearings students with 4-year degrees earn 68% more than DHH students without degrees. 
- The higher the postsecondary degree, the lower the unemployment rate.
- STEM is the great education equalizer.
Great news: DeafTec and the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, with a grant from the National Science Foundation, is sponsoring a STEM camp at The Family Center on Deafness for middle school students from July 10th to July 14th. This free camp is an incredible opportunity for DHH students to learn from Deaf professionals about robotics and engage in STEM related activities.
Deaf and hard-of-hearing students still have a number of challenges being successful in post-secondary education. As a result of these challenges, only 23% DHH students graduate from college compared to 38% of their hearing peers (ACS, 2008). Despite legislative efforts to improve K-12 deaf-education programs, half of the DHH students leaving special education programs read below the fourth grade level. 
Never-the-less, parents with DHH children should expect more from their children and their educators. Investing in higher education is not only about monetary returns. It’s about investing in the whole person.
Programs at Gallaudet University and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) recognize that in order to succeed in STEM, DHH students benefit from mentoring programs throughout their education. But with the help of web-conferencing tools, DHH students now have access to remote tutoring, mentoring, interpreting, and captioning services like never before.
Significant steps are being taken to provide resources and opportunities for deaf and hard-of-hearing students to have success in STEM careers. My hope is that a new era of inclusion and access awaits children like mine.
Some Examples of STEM Job:
ASL VIDEO DICTIONARY:
DeafTEC has developed a STEM ASL Video Dictionary. This is a great resource to expose your deaf and hard-of-hearing students to tech signs. https://www.deaftec.org/stem-asl-video-dictionary
ASL Technical Terms Dictionary:
Technological Education Center for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students is housed at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, one of the nine colleges of the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY.
 Walter, Gerard G. 2010. Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students in Transition: Demographics with an Emphasis on STEM Education, Gerard G. Walter, June 1, 2010.