by Toni-ann Mattera
Photography by Lauren Fogelstrom
Bruce Bucci is an admired and well-respected American Sign Language professor at Boston University. He differs from most other BU professors, as he is part of the 13% of Americans that have hearing problems.
“When I was born, my parents took one look at me realizing I was deaf and they celebrated,” said Bucci. “They were thrilled because we were continuing my family’s deaf legacy. For many other families who find out their child is deaf, they grieve. They think that it’s the end of the world. But it’s not the end of the world for anyone. All it represents is a new journey.”
As a young boy Bucci had access to American Sign Language, or ASL, at home, but once he got to school his parents (who were also deaf) told him he should only practice spoken language. Bucci learned English through a mainstream program, however he was “just surviving, not thriving.”
“People shunned me socially even though there was nothing wrong with me,” said Bucci.
Bucci moved on to Model Secondary School for the Deaf located in Washington D.C. Here, he was able to get a strong education and was surrounded by others who knew how to sign. Bucci continued schooling at Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf.
Bucci grew up swimming competitively. He started taking lessons in Rhode Island where the lifeguard knew how to sign. He went on to become a great swimmer, winning a number of races and proving to those around him that just because he was deaf didn’t mean that he couldn’t swim.
“People thought I wouldn’t be able to hear the starting gun,” said Bucci. “But what I found was that if I visually attended to the person’s finger I could be the first one in the water, and I was every time.”
Showing a strong passion for the sport and Olympic potential, his mother brought him to several YMCA’s, where Bucci was turned down because he was deaf. Finally he came across a swim coach with a very distinct limp who didn’t think twice about letting Bucci on the team.
“I was fired up and ready to show the people who had doubted me that I could succeed,” said Bucci.
He joined the AAU and competed in their tournaments, where he eventually made it to the finals and won first place.
“Afterward I went up to one of the coaches who turned me down and said ‘remember me, the one who’s deaf? You thought I couldn’t swim because I’m deaf, but it’s not about my ears. It’s about my head and my heart,’” said Bucci. “I left him speechless.”
Bucci saw a position opening at a camp where he could be a lifeguard. “I would see kids eyes light up when I taught them and realized that I was born to be a teacher.”
He started at the Rhode Island School of the Deaf in a classroom teaching history, social studies and deaf studies. He was there for 15 years trying to better the school’s program, but decided that a career change was necessary.
“The school had low expectations of their students when it came to ASL,” said Bucci. “These poor deaf children were not getting the level of education they deserved.”
After a job opportunity arose at BU, Bucci realized that this is where he belonged.
“For me this is a job I would be terrified to leave,” said Bucci. “I have such a deep love for this place. I love sharing this beautiful language and working with all of these amazing students. It’s not about the paycheck. That’s just a piece of paper with numbers on it. But when I see my students smiling faces, and that’s priceless.”
Bucci wants to share and clarify the myths and misconceptions about deaf people and elevate the knowledge of the world.
“I don’t feel frustrated,” he said with a smile and nods of agreement from his class. “I know how to develop strategies and communicate through writing, gesturing and interpreters. My students are wonderful. We always make it work, and I enjoy the challenge. We just go with the flow.”