Darla Freeman-LeVay has dedicated her time to helping others since she started as a clinical instructor at the University of South Florida in 2001.
Freeman-LeVay attended the University of Ohio where she received her graduate degree in speech pathology.
When she first moved to Florida, she started at Bay Front Medical Center in St. Petersburg, serving as their outpatient clinician. She said she has loved working in outpatient cognition serving all ages and populations.
“I’ve enjoyed that because I enjoy the diversity,” she said. “I definitely enjoy the challenge.”
Freeman-LeVay said one of the biggest challenges is keeping up with the pace because things are constantly changing.
Out of all her work, voice disorders are her specialty. “That’s my passion, my love,” she said. “I try to take what I know about voice disorder and I try to transition that or bridge it or show how it impacts on every area that I work with.”
When Freeman-LeVay started as a clinical instructor at the University of South Florida, her first patient was Megan Felder, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at 19-years-old and has been struggling with the disease for 16 years.
“I don’t know where I would be without her,” Felder said. “She’s changed my life.”
Freeman-LeVay received the Milestone Award last Saturday at the University of Central Florida in the College of Medicine for her selfless efforts in the fight for MS patients.
Dorris Lill, associate director of community development for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, said Freeman-LeVay has been running a successful memory clinic at USF for years.
“In 2011 she really stepped things up and became relentless in her efforts to help people with MS,” Lill said.
Lill said, Freeman-LeVay has presented at many self-help groups in Tampa, along with hosting the chapter’s monthly teleconference, bringing her technique and guidance to hundreds of people with MS.
“I have truly enjoyed working with Darla,” Lill said. “The feedback we receive about her presentations is outstanding.”
Though modest, Freeman-LeVay jokingly admitted she knows how much effort she has put forth to help MS patients, and she too, feels that she deserves this award.
“You know you’re giving something that people are going to recognize, and you know they’re going to benefit from, and they really appreciate your services,” Freeman-LeVay said. “That gratitude is priceless.”
As an MS patient most grateful to Freeman-LeVay, Felder said she couldn’t think of anyone who deserves this award more. “She’s just amazing,” Felder said. “She’s like an angel.”
Within the past five years, American Sign Language has become one of the top choices among college students to fulfill a foreign language requirement.
According to the Modern Language Association, enrollment in ASL on the college level increased 16 percent between 2006 and 2009.
By comparison, with the country’s three most popular foreign languages— Spanish, French, and German— increased 6.6 percent between 2006 and 2009.
At the University of South Florida, ASL classes fill up quickly within the first few days of the student enrollment period. Theresa Chisolm, professor and chairwoman in the department of communications and disorders, said it is hard to pull data for percentages of USF students alone who sign up for American Sign Language classes.
“The best I can tell you is that we have always been able to fill the sections that we offer, and we offer as many sections as we can each semester,” said Chisolm.
According to the American Sign Language Teachers Association, the status of ASL enrollment in colleges has improved greatly over the past few decades.
Professor William Clements said he believes students take ASL not only to fulfill the foreign language requirement, but also due to genuine interest in the language.
“Some minor in ASL, and some major in an interpreting degree,” said Clements.
Natosha Faiola, a University of South Florida alumni, said she majored in primary education and took American Sign Language for pure interest in the language.
“I’m so happy I took American Sign Language,” Faiola said. “I use it every day with my first-graders. They know words such as ‘bathroom’ and ‘water’ and use the signs when asking for permission, instead of interrupting my lesson.”
Clements says he loves teaching ASL as his primary language to the students.
“It is my native language,” said Clements. “I can communicate to the students via ASL rather than talk in voice so they can’t understand me. It is fun to see how they grow of learning in ASL from the first semester to the fourth semester to become a fluent of ASL. Also, it is fun to see different students in every semester.”
Faiola said what she loves most about teaching sign language to her students is that they are always excited to learn new words, then go home to practice and teach their parents.
“I hope American Sign Language enrollment continues to grow in universities,” said Faiola. “It’s a beautiful language that everyone can learn from.”
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