Jessica Cardinale

Eagle High School senior Jessica Cardinale, 17, talks in American Sign Language with Eagle High School freshman Emmery Leach, 15, on May 21 in teacher Jessica Swygart’s classroom.

Early on in life, Jessica Cardinale, 17, thought everyone had deaf parents. That changed when she was in elementary school and her classmates started asking her questions, like how her parents drove and wrote.

“They can drive and write like everyone else,” she said.

Cardinale — who graduated June 1 — became an advocate at Eagle High School for the deaf community. The senior was the president of the American Sign Language Club this year and won the ASL Senior Award because of her efforts to mentor other students in the language.

As she enters Idaho State University’s sign language interpreting program and resident nursing program, Cardinale has a vision of helping end the discrimination deaf individuals experience in the Treasure Valley.

After graduating from ISU, Cardinale would like to become a registered nurse, giving deaf individuals a medical practitioner who can communicate with them directly. By law, health care providers are required to provide an interpreter for deaf patients.

Growing up, Cardinale got questions and comments that illuminated how little her classmates knew about the deaf community — questions like, “How can you raise a child when you’re deaf?” or, “I’m so sorry your parents are deaf.”

The comments were offensive, and they showed an overarching discrimination and misconceptions of the abilities of deaf people that Cardinale’s parents and the deaf community experience. Cardinale said when she and her parents moved to the Treasure Valley in 2012, it was difficult for her parents to find jobs.

Those experiences have shaped Cardinale’s desire to educate people across the community.

She plans to create videos telling her story and the stories of deaf people in Eagle, Star and Meridian. She wants to visit elementary and middle schools in the area, telling students that “deaf people are not scary or inferior.”

“I believe the deaf community is capable of doing anything and everything,” she said.

Patty Bowen is the Meridian Press reporter. You can reach her at or follow her on Twitter @pattybowenMP.

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