Troy University employs people from the deaf community in the area as part of the ground crew that maintains flower beds and lawns on campus.
Charlotte Wittington is one of three employees currently on staff who are deaf; she is the landscape leader for the grounds crew.
Wittington had no prior experience with landscaping before coming to Troy, but was trained by her friends. Now, 12 years later, she trains the new staff members.
“I’m the leader, but we have about six to eight other people on the crew,” Wittington said. via an interpreter. “We write notes back and forth and some of them learned to sign; (I) showed them how to do it.
“I make sure they understand what we are saying.”
Wittington does not always have an interpreter to help with communication, so the hearing crew members have adapted to being able to communicate better with her and their deaf co-workers.
“My favorite part is to look at all the beautiful flowers on campus and make sure that they get their water,” Wittington said.
She said there are challenges to the job, but there has been nothing she hasn’t been able to overcome.
“Really, the hardest thing for me is to explain some things to the crew and make sure that they’re doing (tasks) right,” Wittington said. “You have to explain it over and over again, and sometimes they don’t understand, but once they learn it, then it’s fine.”
According to Wittington, people on campus who recognize her and know American Sign Language will stop and have conversations with her as well.
“I’m the only one who drives the yellow truck, so they all know me on campus,” she said.
The university trains students in interpretation and American Sign Language through its interpreter training program.
Elizabeth Weldon, a junior in the interpreter training program from Birmingham, said her class sizes in the program are small compared to other majors.
“My class size is six people,” Weldon said. “We’re a really tight community — it’s just like the deaf community.
“The deaf community is very close-knit, and I feel like that relays over into our program. I really just wish that we had more deaf people here in Troy.
“Whenever we go to do interaction hours, we have to drive to either Dothan or Montgomery or even Atlanta just to get those required hours.”
Troy’s initiative to engage with the deaf community started when the university hired Robert Dansby, the first deaf person to work on the grounds crew.
“He was a good one to work with,” Wittington said of Dansby. “It was the same job —we did the same thing; (Robert) made sure it was perfect.”
Dansby retired in 2016 and went on to get his pilot’s license for flights that do not require radio communication. This engagement with the deaf community has been led by the administration.
Chancellor Jack Hawkins has been involved with the deaf community since the 1970s and is a former president of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind (AIDB), from which Wittington graduated.
During his time as the president of AIDB, Hawkins was invited to address the Alabama Association for the Deaf. He recounted an experience that inspired him to become more involved with the community.
“The program was to begin at 9 o’clock,” Hawkins said. “I show up there about a quarter of 9; I walk in this big room, and there must have been 500 deaf people in there.
“It was as quiet as this (empty room), but there was a lot of communication going on — it was just all silent.”
According to Hawkins, he had to speak to the crowd without an interpreter, but he managed with the help of some members of the audience.
“My trustee and several deaf people, including a few who really had some residual hearing, helped me go through this,” Hawkins said. “I knew enough signs and, then, finger spelling.
“What should have been about a 15-minute speech took about 45 minutes. I was so anxious, I was soaked.
“I got a standing ovation, and it was certainly not because of what I said or how I said it, but it was because I stepped over into their community.”