49 Voices: Katie Irwin of Anchorage

Katie Irwin of Anchorage (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

This week we’re hearing from Katie Irwin in Anchorage. On Sunday, Irwin will be the University of Alaska Anchorage’s first deaf commencement speaker. She spoke through a sign language interpreter.

IRWIN: So if you look at the words “hearing” and then the next word “impaired”, the impaired part of that pair of words has huge negative connotations behind it. It means you can’t. It’s an impairment. It means you’re not capable. And really, deaf people can do anything that anyone else can do. It’s just that we can’t hear. We communicate a different way. There are other ways of communicating and getting things done. We hear with our eyes. We hear with our hands. We communicate with our hands and our bodies, and it’s just that slight modification to how we walk through the world. So the word impairment really does imply a can’t or a disability in some way.

My dream had always been to go get my bachelor’s, so I went, “All right. Fine.” And I quite my job. I showed up at UAA and it kind of all fell into place. I really, I don’t regret anything. I don’t regret any of my time at UAA. And I’m actually really going to miss it.

I looked over the Journalism requirements, and there were some skills in that list that I thought, “I already have these skills. There’s Photoshop, photography and all these things I’m already interested in.”

One of my favorite memories in one of my classes, it was actually very challenging was a radio broadcasting class. And the professor asked the whole class, there was this assignment we had to do. The assignment was do one minute of a broadcast in the style of the news. And you had to use your voice and record it. We figured out an equivalent for this, or we were going to figure out an equivalent for this, and I said, “Nope. I can do this. I’m gonna try.”

It took me four-and-a-half hours to do the assignment because I really wanted to make sure my pronunciation and my words were correct and I was saying everything perfectly. I can use my voice, I do choose to speak sometimes, so it took me such a long time. And by the end of it, I show up in class with my assignment done, and I play the recording. And everyone was shocked. They said, “You speak so well. You sound professional.” And the teacher kinda went, “Woah! That’s you?” And I said, “yeah… a woman of many skills.”

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Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org.