THEN AND NOW: RACHEL BROWN
Jan 18, 2018 09:22AM
● By Staff Writer
In January 2012, Rachel Brown was teaching at Lafayette High School, while at the same time studying to earn her Ph.D.
A mother of two and educator of many, Rachel has spent the last several years of her life striving to further educate southern Louisiana residents about the immersive culture that is the deaf community in Acadiana. After earning her doctorate in 2012, Rachel continued to spread knowledge of the community to deaf and hearing people alike through more instruction, teaching and even writing a book.
Since we (FACE) last met with Rachel her career has blossomed. She eventually left LHS and accepted the Middle School Assistant Principalship at the Louisiana School for the Deaf in Baton Rouge. Surprisingly, as this article was being written, Rachel received an unexpected offer—an Assistant Principalship at Lafayette High School.
“I haven’t even processed it yet,” Rachel said, with a smile. “It’s all very, very new… it’s so unexpected, but given how close it is to my home and how wonderful of a job it is, I can’t pass up the opportunity.”
Jubilant for only a moment, Rachel, who is known by her friends as one of the kindest people you’ll ever meet went right back to promoting her passion for educating the deaf community stating—many people do not realize that southwest Louisiana has the second highest amount of deaf-blind people in the U.S. due to the prevalence of Usher Syndromes, a group of genetic diseases prevalent in the state’s Acadian population.
Despite having a high number of deaf-blind residents in the state, interpreters are in short supply, yet high demand in the Bayou State, as the few collegiate programs dedicated to sign language in Louisiana, have shuttered in the last 20 years. Rachel attended The University of New Orleans’ program, which closed its doors after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, further limiting Louisiana’s outreach and education opportunities for those interested in working with the deaf.
“We can’t train our own people in Louisiana,” Rachel lamented. “We have to get people to come to Louisiana to work in the field, and that’s hard to do because of our pay scale and education ranking.”
As such, Rachel is one of Lafayette’s many unsung heroes. Being the ever-humble woman she is, she doesn’t see her work with the deaf community as being “worthy” of such recognition. In fact, in her eyes, her job is as simple as teaching a foreign language to those around her.
Something Rachel focuses hard on is sharing the idea that those who are deaf are not disabled. Instead, they are “diff-abled,” meaning they are perfectly functioning members of society -- they just go about their day-to-day lives a little differently from those who communicate verbally.
“Deaf people aren’t any different than the rest of us,” she said. “They just speak a different language than us.”
She shared the heartbreaking reality that many families with a deaf family member don’t take the time to fully immerse themselves in the deaf community and culture. The deaf person often ends up being severely behind in fields of communication and language due to the barrier presented between child and parent.
Rachel is focused on guiding parents, friends, and family of deaf children through the development of a For Dummies-style guidebook that caters to the parents of newborn deaf children. She’s teamed up with Rachel Coleman, the tour de force behind Two Little Hands Production, a series of books, CDs, and videos dedicated to teaching babies signs. The series has been picked up by Nickelodeon and airs regularly on the company’s channel, as well as PBS.
“(Coleman) has the background of a deaf parent who has worked with sign language in the avenue of little kids,” Rachel said. The book will serve as a cross-section of advice -- one section from someone with a child born deaf, the other from Rachel’s expertise from years in the field of education. Together, those opinions can help parents compare experiences, as many parents “don’t know where to start” when interacting with doctors or teachers or deciding which avenue their child should take.
“There are a lot of decisions that happen throughout their life,” Rachel said. Where to send them to school, how do we communicate with them, can they get a job? These a questions families are often unsure about due to their lack of knowledge about the deaf community. “All these things that come up and people have no idea where to base their decisions and there are no resources out there (to teach them).”
Rachel’s vision for the world is that of Martha’s Vineyard, an island located off mainland Massachusetts where, in the 1600s, everyone signed instead of spoke due to a large deaf population.
“It was so much part of the society that people didn’t even know who was hearing and who was deaf because everybody signed all the time,” she explained.
Despite being busy with her two lively and energetic sons, commuting to and from Baton Rouge every day, and hosting weekly American Sign Language classes, Rachel still finds time to have fun and do things for herself. A few summers ago, she was lucky enough to go on a deaf cruise -- a week-long reprieve where she was able to communicate solely through signing.
“It was so much fun. I didn’t hear my own voice for a week,” she said laughing.
Something people might not know about Rachel is that she is talent manager for a Joshua Castille, a Lafayette native who is currently acting with Deaf West Theatre based in North Hollywood. Working with Joshua and his career has provided Rachel with a lot of opportunities to travel with him over the years. The duo was able to meet with Academy Award Winner Marlee Matlin, one of Hollywood’s most renowned deaf actresses.
Now with plans to return to LHS, Rachel will be able to continue her goal of introducing people to the power of kinesthetic language (signing), or words in motion, a feat that spoken languages cannot inherently offer.
One thing’s for sure—Rachel has been in perpetual motion since 2012 and from all indications, she’s just getting started.
Read Rachel's original cover article at https://issuu.com/FACEACADIANA/docs/face.january.2012
Interviews and article by Caitlin Marshall and Kailey Broussard