Bill Ortiga: Life Through His Eyes

Bill Ortiga is a 53-year-old Professor who teaches American Sign Language at Columbia College, a subject that is very familiar to him.

Ortiga is an interesting individual as he is neither deaf nor hearing.

“I am on the fence,” he says. “It’s in a separate hard of hearing category.”

Because he is “on the fence” with his hearing, Ortiga stated that, “People always forget that I am hard of hearing because I can talk.”

So what does being deaf and hard of hearing really mean?

According to Ortiga, being deaf means that you cannot hear anything and that you rely solely on sign language or reading lips.

“ASL tends to be stronger for deaf people,” he says.

Someone who is hard of hearing means that they can hear some things with the help of a hearing aid and can sometimes interact with others by talking.

Even though Ortiga can still hear and talk a little, he chooses to enforce the “no voice policy” in class as he feels that it is the best way to learn.

Ortiga enforces the “no voice policy” because he believes that it is a “total immersion of experiencing the Deaf Culture,” and adds that it is required for “effective acquisition of advanced receptive and expressive signing skills.”

Steven Oh, 20, a student in Ortiga’s class, says that you must “treat ASL like any other academic course because it definitely requires that you study the day before class or else you’ll be behind,” says Oh.

“I forgot to study the alphabet one time for homework and the next day in class, Bill went around the room asking everyone to hide their cheat sheets and to sign certain letters,” says Oh.

“I kept looking at my cheat sheet and he caught me,” he says. “You can’t take this class thinking that you’re going to get an easy A because easy class because let me just tell you, without putting in work, you’ll be disappointed.”

When asked what a typical day for Ortiga was like, he replied that, “Each day is different and I fluctuate back and forth from being deaf to being able to hear, which makes me hard of hearing,” he says.

Ortiga says that even though he uses a hearing aid to help him hear sounds clearer, he does not always keep them in.
“I take my hearing aids off when I don’t want to hear undesirable things,” says Ortiga. “I only put them on when I need to hear something, but just because I have them in doesn’t mean I always hear.”

Ortiga says that one of the most difficult things about someone who is hard of hearing or even deaf is that it’s often “difficult when trying to interact with the hearing world due to the lack of deaf accessibility, understanding and acceptance from the hearing world.”

While many people believe that ASL is just for those who are deaf and cannot speak, there are still people of hearing that choose to take the class to learn more about ASL and what it’s like to live in a world where you communicate just by signing.

Jose Lee, 25, a graduate of Columbia College, is of hearing but says that he took an ASL class to learn “what else was out there.”

“I had already taken Spanish in high school and so when I came to college, I wanted to try something new and that’s when I decided to try ASL,” he says.

Though Lee said the course wasn’t as easy as many people think it is, he added that, “the experience was very rewarding.”

Even though Ortiga loves to teach, he understands that not everybody wants to take the time to learn sign language but does have one request: know the facts before you judge.

Ortiga says that some of the misconceptions that hearing people often have is that, “Hard of hearing people hear what they want to hear and that deaf people are dumb because they cannot talk or read English.”

While Ortiga says that he is still trying to “fit in somewhere,” he adds that, in the end, “I just accept myself for who I am.”

-Sue Jo, Contributing Reporter