Like a mosaic, there are certain components in one’s life that are brought together to form a much grander meaning. For Joanna Witulski, communication is the masterpiece that unites her with both the deaf and hearing communities.
“Communication is not just speaking; it also includes signing, cues, codes, behavior, approaches and so much more. Most people tend to limit themselves in communication modes. The mind is a powerful tool and being deaf does not prevent us from using our minds. Society provides the barrier,” Witulski said.
The focus Witulski puts on communication is displayed through each of her four jobs.
She currently teaches American Sign Language (ASL) at both La Porte High School and Purdue University North Central and is also the Deaf Services Coordinator at Everybody Counts, Inc. (ECI). Witulski also teaches deaf people and native ASL users their first language.
“[My] favorite thing from each [job] is [seeing] how much a person can learn and never stop learning and applying. We do not stop learning until we are six feet under,” Witulski said.
Witnessing students grasping the technique of ASL and applying it to real life situations is her favorite part of her jobs within the schools. In her other positions, she provides a platform of equality for deaf adults and native ASL users to build a better understanding of their culture and language by reflecting on their own lives and sharing their experiences.
She attended Gallaudet University, Purdue University North Central, Purdue University Calumet and Indiana University Northwest, earning a degree in General Studies, focusing in Public Business and Anthropology. Her interests and experiences are diverse. Witulski graduated from Gallaudet University in August 2014 with a Master’s degree in Sign Language Education.
“I have pretty much taught in many ways my entire life. I have always loved to learn. I try to learn as much as I can, either through research or through people. My true test began in 2004. I was asked to teach ASL at PNC. I turned it down two times on the basis that despite being a natural user of ASL, it does not qualify me for teaching it,” Witulski said. “The third time [it was offered to me], I finally succumbed and took the job. Since then, my understanding of ASL in the field of academia grew, and is one of the reasons why I teach ASL to native ASL users and hearing people.”
When it comes to her life outside of her jobs, “no” is a hard concept to work with. Witulski cannot turn a blind eye when she sees so many opportunities to help others and grow as an individual.
She currently chairs the Northwest Indiana Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community, which hosts events, activities and Deaf Festivals for education, awareness and community cohesion. She also runs the ASL Coffeehouse for PNC ASL Club, which is held at Uptown Café in Valparaiso. Witulski also works with a group of mothers who have children that are bilingual. She co-founded Signing Kids of Northwest Indiana before becoming a mother herself.
On the state and national level, Witulski is a member of Indiana Association of the Deaf, American Sign Language Teachers Association and Modern Language Association. She is also a past member of both National Association of the Deaf and American Society for Deaf Children.
On the local level, she is a past member of Merrillville’s Park and Recreation Department, in which she helped set up Arbor Day events and tree plantings.
Before the Barnes and Noble store in Merrillville closed, she spent much of her time reading stories in ASL. She also reads stories in ASL at Valparaiso’s Barnes and Noble store as well as Borders in Highland. She would love to do that more often, but also would like to encourage other deaf adults to do it, too.
Witulski also runs websites, Facebook pages and social media resources. She also writes a blog named Human, Deaf and Everything in Between. “If I can volunteer, I will volunteer. Volunteering is critical to personal and professional development. If I were rich, I would contribute to many more [organizations], either as a volunteer or cash donor,” Witulski said.
Her heart, which is full of love for the environment, love for learning and love for giving to others, also contains her love and adoration for her husband, Don, of 11 years and their two children, Luke and Genevieve.
Both children are bilingual in ASL and English and each have their own interests, some of which include Little League, dancing, gymnastics, music, reading and photography.
When Witulski has free time, she enjoys reading books, scrapbooking, making arts and craft projects, going to or hosting events, going to conferences, translating songs into ASL with her friends, riding bikes and spending time with her family.
Aside from Witulski’s jobs, family and hobbies, everything relates back to her focus on communication. The bridge between the deaf and hearing world has united her with experiences, individuals and opportunities that will only allow her to grow even further in the future.
“Being deaf is insignificant, challenging yes, but not that important, as long as the mind understands what goes on around us. How we receive and gain access to information is important, being deaf is only in how we adapt in receiving information,” Witulski said. “See beyond the ‘deafness’- you would be surprised who you will meet. Fear can be healthy, yet it is often irrational because the idea of ‘normal’ changes over time. Miscommunication is better than incommunicado.”