The story of Prof. John Jebian: A rocky journey to a deaf-friendly campus

Professor John Jebian with his ASL class. | Via John Jebian

Paola Manzano | Assistant Opinion Director

From having no interpreters, to ASL classes and deaf professors, FIU’s progress on becoming deaf-friendly is a noticeable one. Professor John Jebian’s rocky journey paved the way for more inclusivity for deaf FIU students.

The ASL professor experienced a much less inclusive campus back in 1992. While Jebian holds the title of FIU’s first deaf professor, he was also a former Panther, describing his student experience here at the university as “a life of frustration.”

In his first year, his GPA started dropping. He struggled with his classes since FIU wasn’t providing interpreters. In essence, he paid for classes he wasn’t really receiving — and this was not the only case.

He had to borrow notes from his fellow classmates. It took multiple failed attempts at carbon paper with smudged ink and hours of developing film for him to realize that the answer was a portable Xerox machine. One he hasn’t used since.

The lack of deaf-friendly fire alarms was another example of his tumultuous experience.

“The fire department came in and found me in the library during a fire because I had no idea there was a fire alarm going off,” Jebian signed.

FIU even declined his admission into FIU Theater, believing that having an interpreter would give him a higher advantage when acting. Yet, as Jebian signed oh-so-wisely, “If I forget my lines the interpreter has to also voice the forgetting of the lines. If I pause, the interpreter has to pause.”

FIU Theater now asks him for his collaboration all the time but due to his busy schedule, he hasn’t been able to. 

Regardless, Jebian would tirelessly fight and file complaints to the deaf Services Bureau during his time as a student. And even now, he continues working with our university to create change.

“I did an investigation of what was needed and fixed fire alarms in bathrooms to include lights, the need for Teletypewriters, etc,” Jebian signed – Teletypewriters being an old communication tool used by people who are Deaf or hard of hearing back in the day.

There was even an Americans with Disabilities Act investigation that gave way for amplified sound systems when it comes to announcements since ADA compliance from FIU is a must.

All of Jebian’s bad experiences in the past gave way to improvement at the university when it comes to deaf students and staff. He turned his story into a lesson, and he is grateful to FIU for giving him that chance.

He even called for action toward ASL classes, because considering the language doesn’t require sounds, Jebian recalls that “there was so much speaking going on.”

And after three years of meetings with different department heads, over 800 signatures compiled from students and a meeting with the SGA board in the spring of 2018, an ASL class taught by John Jebian was approved. 

A year later, in the spring of 2019, it was available to students. This class now fills up every semester.

He’s now a professor at the forefront of change. From that point on, history was made at FIU which rectified Jebian’s past experiences with the university.

That being said, like in any institution, there is still room for advancement. Because, while this university makes sure all deaf students have interpreters in the class, note-taking services are not provided and are only available through student volunteers. A deaf student can receive either an interpreter or a notetaker — not both.

Given the fact that ASL is a visual language, not an auditory one, this proves to be problematic. Looking down to write your notes means missing out on what is being said.

Miami Dade College does not solely rely on student volunteers for note taking and pays to provide them for their deaf students, as opposed to FIU, which seems to not have the funds. However, a quick redirection of funds may prove beneficial for not only deaf students but also deaf professors.

Certified interpreters are only paid for four classes, or four weeks, of the ASL I class that Jebian teaches, if possible. After that, he has to rely on his assistants, students from ASL II, to voluntarily interpret for the rest of the semester.

Jebian also advises using different interpreter agencies for deaf staff and deaf students. Since the two have very different needs and schedules.

Because of this, he once waited for three weeks for an interpreter who would constantly cancel. He had to resort to using Zoom.

ASL interpreters are scarce in Florida, and they are getting harder to access in the Southern parts of the country. This is why Jebian wants to make it easier for students to get their ASL interpreting degree in Miami since students are having to leave FIU to complete it.

“I feel like I’m in the 1800s trying to find stuff and trying to get access. Up in the Northern parts of the country, it’s so much easier, and there’s a lot more access,” he said.

His next project is to be able to create ASL III and ASL IV classes at FIU, and his dream is for Miami to know sign language.

Jebian has been an essential tool for deaf history in the past, in the present, and undoubtedly, will be one in the future — the acknowledgment of his story is a stepping stone that leads to a wider recognition of deaf culture.

However, the fact that only this overstated exasperation by the professor is what produced change cannot be ignored, especially when realizing how this reflects on the people in power. 

Let’s not wait until someone makes noise and challenges in order to give them our attention, and let’s make our deaf students and staff a priority, the way it always should have been.

His friends constantly asked him back then, “If you complain so much about FIU, why don’t you just leave?”

He believes his answer will always remain the same: ”Because I cherish those that come after me.”


The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of the PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.

Be the first to comment on "The story of Prof. John Jebian: A rocky journey to a deaf-friendly campus"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.