Ad code

“You will never succeed if you do not try" says the first deaf engineer from BUT

Graduating in engineering is no walk in a park. And this is doubly true when you are separated from others by a barrier of silence. Tomáš Zbavitel has been deaf since birth and he was the first student at BUT with this disability to successfully obtain an engineering degree. Not only he himself, but also his teachers and interpreters had to overcome obstacles during his studies at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering. What was the path to happy ending that was graduation?

“After high school, I tried to study computer science at Masaryk University, but it did not interest me. My brother, who was a BUT student at the time, persuaded me to try my luck at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and put me in contact with the BUT Counselling Centre, today’s Alfons,” recalls Tomáš Zbavitel, a recent graduate of engineering mechanics.

Thus began his challenging journey to a bachelor’s and later master’s degree. “I try not to focus too much on my handicap, sometimes I feel like I am just like everyone else. But the truth is, I tend to miss a lot of information. That is why I needed interpreting or transcription services,” explains Tomáš.

He was supported by the Alfons Centre, especially by the interpreters Jitka Hořanská and Radka Kulichová, who went through the entire studies with him and, with a bit of exaggeration, would themselves deserve an honorary degree. “When I saw the drawings for the first time in a designing class, I was petrified. Sign language is very visual and the interpreter must first understand the message to be able to sign it. So we learned together with Tomáš. But he was admirable. Even though sometimes I felt like I did not quite understand what I was interpreting, he told me to be cool, that he understood,” Hořanská says.

Both interpreters knew Tomáš Zbavitel from before and overcoming obstacles together only strengthened their relationship. “We are much closer now, our joint efforts have made us friends. The transcribers and recorders kept changing, yet I grew close to some of them anyway. I am a sociable and modest student. I thank both my interpreters and everyone else for their help and personal commitment,” says Tomáš.

No concessions

In addition to the support of interpreters and transcribers, deaf students are entitled to one-to-one tuition in English and other subjects if they agree with the teacher. Tomáš Zbavitel used this, for example, for lectures in physics or statics. These are subjects so complex that “consecutive” interpreting is not effective here.

A deaf student also gets extra time during written exams. Although this seems contradictory – after all, he has the assignment written on paper – the bonus time is to help him grapple not with the content of the answer, but with the Czech language. “For the deaf, the first language is sign language, which has its own grammar and structure different from spoken Czech. Therefore, the Czech language is a foreign language for the deaf, so it is like taking an exam in English. This is why the written language of the deaf may contain errors and may resemble that of a foreigner. But this is not related to the student’s intelligence, as he simply makes mistakes like a student of English would when trying to speak or write in English,” Kulichová explains. Therefore, there are no concessions for deaf students, the support is only to help compensate for the handicap and set an equal starting line for everyone.

Tomáš used one more tool, which he even helped create: a dictionary of selected technical terms for Czech sign language. The created sings accelerated the translation of technical terms in classes. Tomáš was not only the first user, but also the face of the dictionary: videos of him signing concepts such as adhesion, shaft or iteration are freely available on the Internet. “I am truly glad we created the dictionary because even other schools are using it, such as high schools for the hearing impaired. We are still trying to continue,” says Tomáš.

Do not give up

An open mind and a willingness to meet others halfway. According to Jiří Krejsa, these are important qualities of a teacher who works with a deaf student. Krejsa’s first lecture was not ideal for Tomáš. “The interpreter stood next to me and began to interpret my lecture on kinematics. I was completely freaked out. You are simply not used to someone waving their hands in your field of vision, and even though I did not understand the signs, it was a kind of visual echo with a few seconds delay. She completely broke up my lecture, I was not able to put together a coherent sentence. I had to banish the poor girl to a corner somewhere,” Krejsa recalls with a smile.

He became interested in the world of the deaf. Krejsa, Tomáš and the interpreters soon found a common language and the teacher began taking sign language classes on his own. After two years, he knows about 1 300 words, and although he does not dare have an expert debate with Tomáš, whom he supervised for his bachelor’s and master’s thesis, they can at least talk. I can hold a light conversation, such as: “Hey, how are you? The weather is bad today.” But I was surprised that Tomáš stuck it out and finished his studies. It must have been exceptionally hard for him, because his path to every piece of information is difficult. I admire him,” Krejsa praises his graduate.

If the lectures were a challenge for Tomáš Zbavitel and his interpreters, it was nothing compared to the State examinations. “The interpreters were terribly afraid of spoiling his defence. Tomáš presented it like any other student, only in sign language, and the interpreters translated his speech into Czech. If they made a mistake, it would look like his mistake. So we trained a lot. And it must be said that there were some funny situations at the beginning. Sign language is very context-based and the characters for different things can be very similar,” says Krejsa.

Tomáš was also worried about the State exams. “I was quite nervous, so nervous in fact that I wanted to run away. But I had a lot of support from my family, my girlfriend, the staff at Alfons and other friends. I almost messed up the beginning of my thesis defence, I did not manage to make up my mind quickly. So I had to pause the presentation for a moment, take a breath, and consciously force myself to focus. After that, everything somehow clicked. I am really glad I did not just give up and run away,” he adds.

And to other deaf persons interested in similar studies, he says: “A handicap is an obstacle, but it is never as big as it seems. There is always a solution, it just takes effort, conviction and perseverance. Do not be afraid of any challenge. You will never succeed if you do not try. And Alfons will help and advise you. The rest is up to you,” concludes Ing. Tomáš Zbavitel.

A final note: On 13 October 2021, the FME Scientific Council awarded Radka Kulichová and Jitka Hořanská the title of Honorary Engineer.

first published HERE

Post a Comment