Inclusivity The Focus for Digital Media Student Keisha Perez

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Accessibility A Focal Point in New Age of Digital Media

Jeremy Gottschalk, Editor-In-Chief

Over summer break, Valencia College student Keisha Pérez, 20, AS in Digital Media Technology specializing in Motion Graphics, was celebrated at Podfest Expo for aiding in creating an inclusive video addressing Deaf and Hard of Hearing access in podcast spaces. Through an internship with Cat5 Studios, a production company of Isabella Johnston, Pérez helped create a collaborative one-minute “heartwarming” inclusion video for PodFest Expo. The convention, held at the Hilton Orlando, ran from May 26 through May 29 and featured members of the podcasting community, vendors, and panels on developing podcast businesses. The winners received a $100 gift card, convention access and Pérez was asked to be a keynote speaker at the convention’s opening ceremony.

PC: Jeremy Gottschalk. PodFest Expo logo at Hilton Orlando on May 26.


As a Deaf student and aspiring Digital Media professional, Pérez saw the opportunity to create an introduction as a way to express the obstacles she faces in her career field. In the video below, Employers4Change CEO Isabella Johnston talks with Pérez about grabbing tickets to Podfest Expo. Judith Britt, a Valencia Staff ASL Interpreter, signed with narration as well as visual and audio edits were provided by student Jason Sindoni.

Heather Davidoff, Mercury Direct Events, discussed the idea behind Podfest Expo, “What’s really unique about PFX, (conventions) are usually business. This is about community, they are more interested in community and bringing everyone up, we bring the businesses in and say, ‘Businesses just happen to join the party.’ Registration to the event introduced options as to if anyone needed accommodations or had ADA needs.


Valencia student Keisha Perez poses with members of Valencia OSD and Accessibility program as well as CEO Employers4Change Isabella Johnston.
(PC: Valencia OSD) Pictured: Katryna Arias (Valencia Staff Interpreter), Jordan Wojtas (Valencia Staff Interpreter), Keisha Perez Lucena (center), Judith Britt (Valencia Staff Interpreter), and Isabella Johnston (Founder & CEO Employers 4 Change). Note: Jason Sindoni, video content editor, contributor and Valencia student, was not in attendance.


Keisha Pérez was born in Puerto Rico and moved to  Florida in 2017 after devastation from Hurricane Maria. Pérez found that sign language used in Puerto Rico is different from that used in Florida. “The basics and foundation are the same but the rest of the grammatic structure is different;  especially since the support and accommodations for the Deaf community in Puerto Rico are not the same as here. While in Puerto Rico, Pérez’s mom turned to homeschooling. Pérez says, “My family learned American Sign Language (ASL) with me and made sure I was always able to communicate with them. I started losing my hearing at age four, it was progressive, so it took a few years before I lost almost all my hearing. I took speech therapy for a long time, I learned how to pronounce the words and how to read lips. At age seven, I started wearing my first hearing aids, by that time I had 70% hearing loss.”

Pérez explains her experience moving to Florida and  beginning at Valencia College. “I did not know a lot of English,” she recalls, “I grew up used to communicating with hearing people in Spanish. My first year living in the US, I had to learn how to read and speak English, and the ASL used in Florida has a lot of differences. Therefore, I had to learn ASL all over again. After, I felt ready to join Valencia College and start my education. They provided interpreters for all of my classes and made sure I always had the right accommodations.”

Donna Kimmeth, Valencia Accessibility Program, and Coordinator – Deaf & Hard of Hearing Services,   says, “We have a top-notch team of Sign Language Interpreters and Captionists at Valencia, a compassionate and hard-working team in the Office For Students with Disabilities  across all campuses, and we are so very fortunate to have an incredibly caring faculty working right alongside us to help our students succeed in their chosen career field.”

Pérez has faced other obstacles outside of the classroom. She mentions how fearful students can seem and how often people may be afraid to talk to Deaf people.
“Do not be afraid to try and talk with us. Many people prefer to avoid us because they think we won’t understand them or we don’t know how to act around other people. This is completely wrong. Deaf people might not be able to hear, but we tend to be very perceptive people. It’s a lonely world for someone who can’t hear what is happening around us.”

Keisha also offers this advice:

“Don’t make it worse by running away from us. We are willing to do our best to communicate with you. Whether we must use paper and pen to write back and forth or use an interpreter.”
“But please, most of all, do not yell. If you yell, we still won’t be able to hear you, we will only see your expressions and by exaggerating them it will make it harder for us to read them. Making it

louder doesn’t make it better. Speak clearly, articulate well and have patience.”

Pérez continues to strive for accessibility and inclusivity in her academic, professional and social pursuits. She hopes to begin a specialization in Video Production in 2023.