In her role at the Communication Disorders Clinic, Debra Knox is a clinical instructor and supervises graduate students who work with the deaf and hard of hearing community.
As of this month, Knox is also the president of the Florida chapter of the A.G. Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. The organization is a national support and advocacy group for adults, parents, educators, administrators, audiologists and other professionals providing family and professional networking, fundraising, scholarships and conferences.
Knox’s new position dovetails with her 2016 appointment by then-Gov. Rick Scott to the Florida Coordinating Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, an advisory and coordinating body which recommends policies that address the needs of Florida’s deaf, hard of hearing, late-deafened and deaf-blind community.
“There is a critical shortage of modality-specific professionals in the educational setting for children,” Knox said. Other issues, she said, include access to hearing technology and the costs associated with hearing loss, including traveling to locations where children can obtain services.
When Knox was a teenager, she became interested in learning American Sign Language. In the days before the internet, her mother fostered her interest in ASL by purchasing her books and allowing her to audit a sign language course at a local college.
Later, Knox participated in her high school’s innovative internship program that partnered Knox with a speech-language pathologist who worked in local elementary schools.
“I learned the joy of signing,” Knox said. “But no one form of communication is superior to another.” Some clients prefer to communicate solely through sign language or oral communication, while others prefer a combination of sign language and vocalization.
Knox has passed on her passion for helping the deaf and hard of hearing community to her high school daughter, who is in her fourth year of ASL instruction.
“I love coming to work each day,” Knox said. “The ability to communicate is directly linked to personal happiness and deeper relationships, and we are humbled to help our clients make those connections.”