Back when she was a student at ORRJHS, Marion resident Nina Batt played a concert with the jazz band for an auditorium of deaf children.
“We did a concert at the Rhode Island School for the Deaf. I thought it was a horrible idea. Why would you play music for deaf people?” Batt said.
But then she noticed something unexpected. The students sat on the floor. Some had water bottles sitting in front of them.
“They could see the vibrations in the water bottles. They would put their hands on the ground to feel the music.”
Though she had learned to sign the alphabet in elementary school, this concert was Batt’s true introduction to deaf culture.
While attending high school, Batt was a member of the drama club. Through special arrangement, members of the Rhode Island School for the Deaf drama club came to see the ORR production of “Evita.”
“We had translators on stage signing during the whole production,” said Batt.
Later, a friend introduced her to the basics of American Sign Language, which acted as a catalyst for Batt’s interest in the deaf community.
Now, she is a student at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts where she is continuing to pursue her passions.
“At the moment, I’m an English major. I’m in the Teacher Education Program at the college. What I’m going to try to do is incorporate deaf studies in order to create a deaf education minor,” she said.
In addition to being a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters, Batt is also a member of her college’s American Sign Language Club, which sponsors events geared toward raising awareness for the deaf and hard of hearing community.
“Last year, we ran a program called “Deaf Deaf World” which is a 24-hour period where you can’t speak. You go into a designated room and there are all sorts of activities to do without speaking.”
Over the summer, Batt worked as an intern with DEAF, Inc., a non-profit in New Bedford which serves the deaf community. While much of her job was administrative, she had the unique experience of using ASL from nine to five every day.
“It’s a very small office, so sometimes people would be waiting to be seen for an appointment and I’d sign with them and chat. One of my bosses was deaf and one was hard of hearing. It was really cool to have that dynamic with the both of them. I would have to sign the entire internship. It was definitely a full-immersion [situation].”
Since then, her mother, Sarah, has begun taking ASL classes at the DEAF, Inc. office in Alston, Massachusetts.
“She just wanted me to have somebody else I could sign with,” said Batt.
After the internship was over, her family began discussing the possibility of taking a vacation. Around the same time, Batt had been considering running a half-marathon, something that has been a goal of hers for some time. Her step-father pushed for a trip to Vancouver and happened to find a local race.
“My step-father has been out there and he loves it. He found [a half-marathon] in Vancouver, so we thought, when we’re there, why not take a mini-family vacation and hang around for a couple days?”
But Batt saw an opportunity to turn the race into something bigger than a checkbox on her bucket list.
“I wanted to make something good out of it, not just for myself but for the people who helped me out during the summer,” she said.
So she, her family and her friends sent out pledge letters to everybody they knew, including the ORR community, colleagues, co-workers and the Holy Cross women’s field hockey team, of which Batt was a member during her freshman year.
But it was not only Batt who ran. She was joined by her mother, step-father and family friend Sue Sullivan. Sullivan is also a Holy Cross alumnus, having graduated in 1985.
“In the end, we had raised close to $16,000 for DEAF, Inc. They can do a lot with that money,” said Batt, who hopes that the funds can be spread out to help all of the offices.
Batt may not be planning on running another race for the deaf, but her work with the hard of hearing is far from over. Her focus now is to finish college and eventually get her Master’s in education. Her ultimate goal is to teach English literature to deaf students.
By Eric Tripoli