American Sign Language teacher Matthew Snelling brings deaf awareness to the hearing world

American Sign Language teacher Matthew Snelling speaks to a person in their language during a deaf chat event at Hav-R burgers in town. (Kennedy Stidham photo)

American Sign Language teacher Matthew Snelling speaks to a person in their language during a deaf chat event at Hav-R burgers in town. (Kennedy Stidham photo)

By Davion Smith, Staff Writer

Snelling is pictured here as he signs at the recent Deaf Chat at Charburger's. This is a tradition he began to allow his students the opportunity to interact with the deaf community. (Kennedy Stidham photo)
Snelling is pictured here as he signs at the recent Deaf Chat at Charburger’s. This is a tradition he began to allow his students the opportunity to interact with the deaf community. (Kennedy Stidham photo)

His eyes focused on the swiftly speaking lips. He tried hard to listen to the seemingly muted voices in the midst of the roaring white noise. Soon, his friends erupted with voluptuous laughter, and muffled words floated to his ear.

“She. Hates. No. Dude.”

As hard as he tried, he could not make sense of what his friends were saying. It was times like these American Sign Language teacher Matthew Snelling really regretted forgetting his hearing aid.

“I first noticed on the first month after he was born when he was not responding to calls or sounds,” mother Linda Snelling said. “The doctors said that I should dismiss it, but I wish I hadn’t.”

After she discovered that Matthew Snelling was deaf, his mother began working to get him the tools he needed. She went to doctor appointments and got him a speech therapist. Matthew Snelling was able to read lips quickly and respond audibly, but she bought him a hearing aid anyway.

“We never told him that he couldn’t do something,” Linda Snelling said. “We knew he could do anything he wanted to if he put his mind to it. He never used his hearing loss as an excuse, and we never saw it as a disability.”

The same encouragement he received from his mother, Matthew Snelling said he hoped to give to the rest of the deaf community, and that is why he is very adamant about being involved with the culture.

“The deaf culture doesn’t like to be called hearing impaired, it infers that we’re damaged, but we’re proud of who we are,” Matthew Snelling said. “This is how we are, and this how we should be.”

Matthew Snelling admitted that he was not always as involved with the deaf culture. He made adjustments to fit in with the children who attended “main stream schools” because they could hear.

“I had this this small black box that was attached to the edge of my belt and ran up to my hearing aid,” Matthew Snelling said. “My teacher had an square pound heavy box that hung around her neck which amplified what she said and transmitted it directly to my hearing aide,” Snelling said.

Matthew Snelling said that box is the main reason why he stayed out of the loop from his culture for most of his early life. He did not yet realize that there was a different world awaiting him.

“There are two worlds: the hearing world and the deaf world,” Matthew Snelling said. “There are certain things the deaf do differently, such as how they communicate.”

Matthew Snelling was first introduced to the customs of the deaf world in college. He was training to become a counselor when he learned of ASL. The language was a necessary tool for him to communicate with all of his clients and complete his degree. He said it was when he was studying ASL, he unintentionally found a new passion.

“I was inspired to bring out more awareness to the deaf culture and share my knowledge, so that more people could communicate with deaf people,” Matthew Snelling said.

American Sign Language teacher Matthew Snelling speaks to a person in their language during a deaf chat event at Hav-R burgers in town. (Kennedy Stidham photo)
American Sign Language teacher Matthew Snelling speaks to a person in their language during a deaf chat event at Hav-R burgers in town. (Kennedy Stidham photo)

Matthew Snelling said when he learned of an open position for an ASL teacher, he considered it to be a dream job.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Matthew Snelling said. “As I did my research, I found out how really cool of an program it was. American Sign Language is such an underrated language in high school, and it doesn’t deserve to be because the deaf culture needs to be recognized. I’m glad that I get to shed light on that.”

Matthew Snelling has worked at Duncanville High School for two years now. He has brought the deaf culture to Duncanville by leading the ASL club, hosting regular deaf chats and leading the national anthem in sign language at school events.

“I think it’s wonderful that he gets involve in the deaf world,” his wife Michelle Snelling said. “As a teacher, he also helps hearing people understand the deaf world and their culture.”

Matthew Snelling’s five year old daughter is also deaf. She uses sign language to communicate as well as a hearing aid to cope.

“I knew that we could do whatever we could  to make her feel accepted, and I have my husband and his family to help me because they went through the same thing,” Michelle Snelling said.

Matthew Snelling said that he and his daughter share similar experiences and have a stronger bond because of it.

 “I love my daddy,” daughter Mackenzie Snelling said.

Matthew Snelling said that he hopes that he can continue to be a positive example for his daughter, his students, the hearing and the deaf. He wants to display that there is no challenge too large to overcome, a lesson he’s learned first hand.