Education26th November 2013

Johanna Lucht - It could have been so different

Johanna Lucht was isolated and being let down until effective communication was introduced to her life. Things changed then!

by Sarah Lawrence

Education of deaf youngsters has been the subject of much debate over a prolonged period of time. The systems, processes and structure for educating deaf children has changed significantly over the last twenty years, but generally deaf youngsters still finish education worse off than their hearing counterparts. This inequality in educational achievement drives a lifelong inequality in all aspects of life. The cause is not that a child is deaf, the cause is the establishment's inability to communicate effectively, to be able to work with a deaf child to maximise their potential and to allow a deaf child to flourish.

‚ÄčThe following story about Johanna Lucht highlights why this remains such an important issue, with the ability to communicate effectively at an early age remaining as an issue of key importance.

Johanna Lucht was born in Germany where her father worked for the US Government. She was born Deaf. The local deaf community were able to provide little in the way of help and support, and the Department of Defence Dependent School she attended, did not have any specialist provision for a deaf student. Trying desperately to help her, Johanna's mother tried to learn American Sign Language from a book, but that proved to be wholly inadequate.

The result is that Johanna had virtually no language communication skills up to the age of 9. Understandably, this was a huge influence on her ability to socialise and to feel comfortable in her environment. Frankly, she was being let down. Her mother Julie recalls the worry they felt at the time, "There were times when we did not know what the future held for her at all. I think we felt like there was somebody trapped inside there, but we couldn’t get that person out because we didn’t have the language skills."

Thankfully, at the age of 9 things turned a corner - the school hired Keith Wann, an interpreter, to work with her. The early days were difficult as Johanna knew little American Sign Language and even getting her trust and confidence was hard earned. "She was so shy and so quiet, I was just trying to make her laugh and trying to connect to a kid so I could have her trust," Keith explained.

A willing and able learner Johanna started to pick up Sign Language and after only a few months was able to hold a conversation. With a means of communication in place, Johanna was then able to learn in school. An able student Johanna caught up the her grade level in middle school and had progressed to honours classes whilst in High School.

Aged 16 and despite her academic progress, Johanna knew little about computers but she learned about a Summer Academy Programme on computer science at the University of Washington for deaf students. The programme was usually open to students aged 18 or over, but in rare cases they did accept younger applicants. Johanna applied and after a successful she returned the following year as a teaching assistant.

From being a quiet and wary girl up to the age of 9, the introduction of a means to communicate effectively transformed Johanna to such an extent that she developed a reputation for good leadership, organisation and a sense of humour. She was a young lady blossoming!

Growing in confidence, Johanna came across a NASA internship programme for students with a disability on Facebook. Interested but always with other priorities. Johanna had to be gently pushed to apply, but apply she did and she was thrilled to get an email offering her a placement.

A little nervous to start with, Johanna learned the basics and subsequently got involved in developing a collision-avoidance mobile application for pilots at the Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, California.

With further research to do, Johanna's internship came to an end, but she is hopeful of returning to NASA to take up a full time job in the future. If that is not possible, she hopes to get a job developing technology that will improve people's lives.

Johanna and her family are incredibly grateful for the change brought about by the introduction of someone who could build her communication skills. For Johanna this was life changing, but it could have been so different. For a lot of deaf children, it is different. They aren't being given that help and support and neither are many of the parents of deaf children.

Johanna's story should be a reminder about the importance of language and communication in the early years. It defines personalities, happiness and social development and it is life limiting if we continue to get it wrong.

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Community / Education

26th November 2013