Durham Tech helps break language barrier, connects families in deaf community

(l to r) Crystal Honeycutt Willock, Buffi-Lynn Gaskin-Fisher, Claudia Rayno

It was a tough moment for Crystal Honeycutt Willock as she enrolled her daughter away from home at the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf.

Her daughter has progressive hearing loss, Willock said, and she felt the Wilson-based school could provide new resources and opportunities.

Her choice was a good one, she said.

“Being in the deaf community took her from being an outsider kid in public school to be completely embraced, accepted, and loved,” Willock said. “I saw her language capacity and comprehension blossom, and I knew at that point that I had made the right decision.”

But after her daughter’s diagnosis, Willock also wanted to find more resources to communicate with her child. She researched American Sign Language in the Triangle – and found Durham Tech.

“I thought it was progressive to find out Durham Tech had ASL classes,” Willock said. “It’s providing me with an opportunity to stay connected with my daughter. Durham Tech is not only serving my educational goals, but most intimately, it is allowing me to communicate with my daughter and keep pace with the way she is growing.”

Durham Tech offers American Sign Language classes as continuing education and curriculum courses, taught by Rebecca Coyne.

“Ms. Coyne makes the class unique by humanizing the deaf community,” Willock said. “Her desire for people to be able to connect on their own terms is really inspiring.”

Willock’s classmates at Durham Tech, Buffi-Lynn Gaskin-Fisher and Claudia Rayno, also have personal connections to the deaf community.

Gaskin-Fisher has a 13-year-old daughter who is completely deaf.

“It’s hard to find interpreters on short notice when I need them to go to appointments with me and my daughter so I decided to take ASL classes to have an opportunity to effectively communicate with her,” Gaskin-Fisher said. “I was relieved to see Durham Tech offered ASL classes. It feels good to be able to communicate with my daughter and I hope Durham Tech expands the ASL program to offer even more classes in the future.”

Rayno wants to be an ASL interpreter in a classroom setting.

“My father immigrated to America in middle school and his father didn’t speak English so he grew up with a lot of language barriers,” Rayno said. “Talking to my dad over the years about the struggles he faced and not being able to communicate with his family or classmates is what drove my interest in ASL.”

Willock said she also hopes to turn her ASL education into a career and aspires to be an ASL interpreter in a medical setting. She said she is thankful Durham Tech has made learning about deaf culture more accessible in the Triangle.

“I think Durham Tech, whether they know it or not, is doing a really beautiful thing by embracing another marginalized community,” Willock said. “It’s frustrating to not be able to know enough about the deaf community and the language to advocate for my daughter in the ways I normally would as a parent, but because of Durham Tech, I have access to learning more about the nuances and subtleties that make up the culture. When I’m able to sign with my daughter, it’s my way of saying ‘I love you no matter who you are and I’m in this with you to the best of my ability.’ ”