Graduate student writes for awareness and acceptance

March 24, 2011

Alex Camarota (left), graduate student in the Master of Fine Arts program for creative writing, receives the 2011 student Focus Award from Alysa Rollock, vice president for ethics and compliance. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)

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Purdue presented four Focus Awards on March 1 for outstanding contributions to furthering the University's commitment to disability accessibility and diversity. Today, Purdue Today is featuring the student recipient, Alex Camarota, graduate student in the Master of Fine Arts program for creative writing.

As a way to share his experiences and dispel misconceptions related to disabilities, Alex Camarota explores deaf identity and American Sign Language in his writing and acts as a disability advocate on the West Lafayette campus and in the community.

Camarota, who was diagnosed with progressive sensorineural hearing loss at age 6, views language and writing as important tools in reaching his goal of increasing awareness and acceptance of all disabilities, not just deafness.

"Most people have no idea what it's like to be deaf or disabled, and many are informed by stereotypes seen in media," Camarota says. "In my writing, I'm trying to correct these false notions and show the different facets of these experiences."

To help younger deaf students make the transition from high school to college, Camarota joined Purdue's Disability Resource Center as a peer mentor.

"Being able to confidently navigate the complex network of discourse communities in an academic institution is necessary for being successful," Camarota says. "Since our disability isn't so much an impairment but a language barrier, the right attitude coupled with access to accommodations and adaptive services are the keys to success for deaf and hard of hearing students."

Camarota says serving as a peer mentor also helped him realize that everyone has their own path toward accepting their deafness and that each person must arrive at that in their own time.

In collaboration with the DRC and Diversity Resource Office, Camarota has facilitated "Writing the Disability. Breaking the Myth." for the past two years. The workshop, which gives participants an opportunity to study and write creative works related to disability, aims to provide writers with tools to share their perspectives on disability. A public reading of works written in the six-week workshop will be at 7 p.m. on March 30 in Room 140, Krannert Building.

Beyond campus, Camarota helped implement open captioning at the Lafayette Eastside 9 cinema by initiating a dialogue with cinema managers and employees about serving deaf and hard of hearing customers. After local managers obtained necessary technology, they began showing open captioned films two times per week.

"Although open captioned screenings have been reduced to once per month as a result of a corporate decision, we are still working to increase that number," Camarota says. "But the whole experience was a true example of how positive advocacy and education can achieve a desirable outcome for everyone involved."