Zug, 22.09.2022

It was never thought that Nicole Lubart would attend a university

In order to be able to realize her dream job as a sports teacher, Nicole Lubart had to fight with the IV for a long time. She now calls for more educational equality for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Nicole Lubart estimates that she is one of about 22 deaf and hard of hearing people in Zug, Although she lives in Steinhausen, she now works in Wollishofen as a teacher at the secondary school for the deaf and hard of hearing. She has realised her dream of becoming a physical education teacher. Unlike others, however, her path there was long and rocky. Because the 41-year-old is deaf due to a gene mutation.

She only learned sign language at the age of 17
When Nicole Lubart was attending school, sign language was still banned there. The focus was firmly on the spoken language in which lessons were taught. Outside of class, the deaf and hard of hearing students communicated with their own gestures. When she was 17 years old, she gained access to the full, rich world of sign language. Only later was sign language also used as a language of instruction in schools.

"Even though I only learned it properly at a later date, my mother tongue and heart language is sign language," she asserts. But she soberly adds:

"I couldn't learn much in my time at school. If I‘d been taught sign language, I could be somewhere else today."

The sign for "energy": Nicole Lubart in conversation with an interpreter.
Nicole Lubart talks about her time at the university, whose name "Gallaudet" she is currently spelling
The gesture "Interrupt": Nicole Lubart talks to her interpreter        Photos: Matthias Jurt

After two apprenticeships, she was stuck
She was talked out of following her first career aspiration, as a hairdresser. "Everyone said that it wasn’t possible, because you have to talk a lot as a hairdresser." That frustrated her. Instead, she completed a home economics course, and then an apprenticeship as a painter. But the work on the construction site gnawed at her health:

"I suffered from severe back problems and had to grit my teeth for three years to get through."

She applied to the IV (the national Disability Insurance) for retraining. Her dream was to study sports in Magglingen in order to be able to work as a sports teacher later on. But she had no chance of enrolling there without a high school diploma. At that time she attended school, there was no provision for deaf people to attend higher education. For example, the knowledge of French that was required for this was not on the curriculum. So the Steinhauser with a secondary school diploma  degree looked around for an alternative and, for the first time, heard about the only deaf-people’s university in the world, the Gallaudet University in Washington D.C.

"When I saw that you could study sports there, it was clear: that's where I want to go!" says the now 41-year-old. She wanted to learn English anyway. Nicole Lubart applied to the IV for funds for retraining. But the authorities turned her down – twice. After all, she had "only" completed an apprenticeship. Nicole Lubart appealed and, after three years of continuous struggle, her request was accepted.

The second Swiss woman at Gallaudet University
Her arrival at the only deaf university in the world was a turning point in the life of the then 23-year-old:

"It was heavenly, and I felt like an angel – I could sign day and night."

All the teachers are proficient in sign language. After a preliminary course in English and American Sign Language, Nicole Lubart studied English and sports. As only the second Swiss woman ever at Gallaudet University, she then received her bachelor's degree in 2011. She now teaches sports, sign language, English and other subjects in bilingual team teaching.

Everyday life is – mostly – uncomplicated
Today, Nicole Lubart lives in Steinhausen together with her husband, who is also deaf. Privately, she communicates almost exclusively in sign language: "That's where I'm at home, mentally on an equal footing with the other members of the community." They have their own culture with their own history and their own jokes. But as there are only a few of us, we usually have to travel a long way to meet.

She communicates with her non-deaf family members with a mixture of signs and spoken language. She has also mastered lip reading. In the case of meetings with non-deaf people, she arranges an interpreter in advance – to ensure fluent and differentiated communication. For appointments with public institutions, the latter cover the costs, while, at work, the IV pays for interpreters for around seven to ten hours per month.

"In my school, we can share one interpreter at a time, for example, when parent discussions or team meetings are scheduled," she says. However, a deaf person who only works with hearing people will get nowhere with the limited number of hours. Extra-occupational interpreting assignments are financed by the interpreting company with funds from various sources.

Further training, for which she also needs an interpreter, is a problem for her, however. The IV then often takes the position that the respective further training is not needed. "I find that inhumane – and I feel like I’m being treated as a thing in such situations," she says., annoyed

But many things can also be uncomplicated: Nicole Lubart can be woken up with a vibration clock, guests ringing at the door are announced by a flashing light, and normal telephone calls are possible by means of a telephone exchange with video.

An implant is leading to fears in the community
Nicole Lubart is concerned about the future of sign language, however. Why? "Today, many deaf or hard of hearing children use the so-called cochlear implant," she says. This technical aid even allows deaf people to be able to partially hear again.

Nicole Lubart is pleased with this development on the one hand, but, on the other, she observes that, when deafness is diagnosed in their children, there is no equally-based professional information for parents about the opportunities of a bilingual education. Out of uncertainty, the parents thereby often opt for an implant and regular classes, instead of a bilingual school.

"Studies show that these old prejudices are unfounded," explains Nicole Lubart. She is campaigning that affected children should learn both languages, i.e. spoken and sign language. The latter is an equivalent language, she emphasizes, noting:

"If there were no longer any sign language users at some point, a community and its culture would disappear."