Jerrdan Jones, 17, of Portales, watches his mother, Darynda Jones, use sign language as she talks. Staff Photo: Andy DeLisle
By Marlena Hartz: CNJ Staff Writer
Only the loudest sounds penetrate Jerrdan Jones’ world — the rumble of a lawn mower, the rush of a subway train, the buzz of a chain saw and, occasionally, the roar of a car engine in the auto shop where he works.
Otherwise, his world is silent.
His mother, Darynda Jones, also his interpreter, has been his shadow for quite some time. She transforms the words her son cannot hear into signs he can see. Mother and son are fluent in American Sign Language. For him, it is a first language; for her, it is secondary, one she learned in a classroom to communicate with her son.
“I did not want to be his interpreter. But in schools in rural areas, a lot of times there is just nobody qualified in these things,” Jones said, her 17-year-old son’s eyes fixed on her hands.
“It is kind of embarrassing,” Jerrdan signed, with a smirk. “She follows me everywhere.” The words are his, yet his mother gives them voice.
Jerrdan is one of two students diagnosed as profoundly hearing impaired, or deaf, in Portales Schools, according to Portales Schools Student Support Services officials. In Clovis Schools, 14 students are hearing impaired but none considered deaf, according to Clovis Schools Student Support Services officials.
The educational path of such students is largely determined by parents and specialists, according to Portales Schools Director of Student Services Terry Warnica.
When Jerrdan reached the age of 3, an implant was placed inside his cochlea, a structure in the inner ear spiraled like a sea shell. It detects pressure and sends electrical impulses to the brain in people with normal hearing.
The implant was supposed to help Jerrdan learn to speak, but it proved more a hindrance than anything else, and was removed when he was 11, the family said.
“All the sounds scared me. I didn’t know what to do,” Jerrdan signed.
Unlike sounds, signs are second nature for Jerrdan.
“It is just his language,” his mother explained.
American Sign Language — a constellation of hand, facial expressions and postures — is the fourth most commonly used language in the United States, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
Yet — echoing the Joneses — school officials said finding interpreters in eastern New Mexico can be a struggle.
“Interpreters are difficult to find. They are not just floating around, especially in a place like eastern New Mexico,” Warnica said.
In the past decade, however, the race to find qualified interpreters in the area has eased, officials said. Two full-time sign language interpreters and an audiologist are employed at Clovis Schools. They adequately meet the needs of the hearing-impaired student population, said Cindy Osburn, Clovis Schools director of student support services.
Clovis Community College launched an American Sign Language Program in spring 2001, and offers an associate’s degree in ASL interpretation. Jones helped launch the program and is one of its key instructors. In its fifth year, the program has five part-time instructors. The number of students who take sign language to fulfill a foreign language requirement has grown almost sixfold since the program’s inception, although the number who pursue associate’s degrees through the program remains relatively low, according to Jan Lloyd, CCC Liberal Arts Division chair.
Osburn said the program has helped alleviate the need for interpreters in the region.
Most of Jerrdan’s schooling took place before the CCC program was implemented. He left his hometown of Portales, a rural area with roughly 11,000 residents, to attend the Albuquerque School for the Deaf. Once he reached high school level, he dropped out to attend Portales High.
“I didn’t like the school for the deaf. It was boring. I always stayed in my dorm room and watched TV,” signed Jerrdan.
In Portales, life is busier, filled with cruises in fast cars, meals with friends and other typical teenage activities, Jerrdan signed.
Next year, he will graduate from high school, with his mother, who has a bachelor’s degree in sign language interpretation, undoubtedly signing at his side.
Jerrdan plans to continue to work at his father’s auto shop after graduation.