Correction: Due to reporting error, an earlier version of this story and photo caption misspelled Ted Horton-Billard’s last name and provided the wrong age for when he learned sign language. It has been updated with the correct spelling and age.
Ted Horton-Billard, a 26-year-old history junior from Brea, Calif., is in his first semester at ASU and can’t hear. Billard’s name sign, the American Sign Language equivalent of a nickname, is Teddy Bear.
Billard is actively involved in pledging Delta Sigma Phi and playing on two softball teams for the fraternity, all while taking a demanding class schedule and tutoring students in ASL.
“When I was two-and-a-half, I had spinal meningitis,” Billard signed. “I died. My father performed CPR. After that, I was deaf.”
According to a 2005 Gallaudet University research study, 13 percent of Americans are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Gallaudet is based in Washington, D.C., and is the only university in the world that caters to Deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
Many deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans use American Sign Language to communicate.
Growing up in an all-hearing family and attending hearing schools, Billard began learning and using ASL when he was 14. As a result, he can comfortably communicate with both deaf and hearing people.
After completing two years of coursework at a community college near his home, he, like many young deaf people, had the option of attending Gallaudet University.
Though he hasn’t met any other hard-of-hearing students at ASU, part of Billard’s choice to attend ASU was the opportunity to be involved with hearing students.
“I’m currently pledging for my fraternity,” he wrote in a text message. “I am enjoying this new frat life, because they taught me how to be a leader, how to understand business, and given me the opportunity to meet new people. I’ve met over 70 brothers, and they are all very nice to me.”
Billard said he does feel he is treated differently, but not in a bad way.
“I’ve met a lot of people who know signs, but it would be awesome if a lot of students knew sign language,” he wrote.
Billard pointed to himself, folded his thumb on his right hand over his palm with his other four fingers straight up, and moved his hand rapidly back and forth against his left hand to sign, “I’m very busy!”
He said doing homework, reading, attending fraternity events and tutoring students in ASL occupies most of his time. He also pitches and plays third base for the fraternity softball teams.
Nolan Golay, a biochemistry freshman and a member of Delta Sigma Phi, first met Billard at a rush event in January.
“When I first met Ted, I didn’t realize he was Deaf at first,” Nolan said. “He sounded a little different to me, but I didn’t think much of it.”
Nolan is one of several Delta Sigma Phi brothers who decided to learn sign language after spending time with Billard.
“As he’s been pledging throughout this semester, it’s been awesome getting to know him,” Nolan said. “We hang out all the time. I can see him from across campus, and we can sign stuff until we walk up to each other.”
Genetics junior Raylun Golay, Nolan’s biological brother, is Billard’s Delta Sigma Phi “big” and said he has greatly enjoyed learning ASL.
”It’s so much fun,” Raylun said. “It’s honestly my favorite language. If I could sign instead of speaking, I would. It’s not easy or hard, it’s in-between, but I’m lucky to have someone to practice with and throw questions at. He’s always there to support me.”
Before Raylun became Billard’s “big,” the two talked about life goals over a game of basketball. One of Raylun’s goals was to eventually go skydiving.
“(Billard) told me that he went (skydiving before), and when he returned he felt like a new man,” Raylun said. “I took him skydiving for our big-little reveal. Ever since then, we’ve bonded.”
Delta Sigma Phi president Evan Hendriks, a biology sophomore, said the fraternity aims to break away from stereotypes and negative fraternity views. Its slogan is “Better men, better lives.”
“Knowing that he’s deaf and talking to him, we were really impressed,” Hendriks said. “He believed in our message. He came out and checked us out regardless of being deaf. That takes courage, and to back it up, he’s a great guy.”
Between learning sign language from Billard and teaching him wrestling, Raylun has spent a great deal of time with him.
“He’s really genuine, really giving, true-of-heart and loyal,” Raylun said.
Billard said he is already looking forward to returning to ASU in the fall and maybe even being a teacher’s assistant.
“From what I heard, more than half of the students at ASU never met a deaf person before,” Billard wrote. “It’s nice to know people and give them an experience to meet a deaf person like me.”
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