Barrington native Marissa Polvere is on a mission to travel the world — and she has a lot to accomplish on that mission. Polvere, who was born deaf, wants to use her travels to enhance rights and accessibility for deaf people all over the globe. A current student at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y., Polvere recently traveled to South America with 13 other RIT students to study the sign languages of Chile and other countries and to examine how rights for deaf people differ in that part of the world.
“In the fall semester … I learned about the signs and culture,” she said. “I took a tour of the community in Santiago and I went to see the deaf associations and see the different deaf programs.”
In addition to Santiago, Polvere also traveled to several smaller communities in Chile to learn about their programs for deaf people. Because of differing education levels and varying dialects, she said it was sometimes more challenging to communicate with deaf communities in the smaller towns.
“I was able to use the signs that I learned, but I had to do a lot more gesturing because the communication barrier was different,” she said.
Polvere said throughout Chile, deaf people generally have a more difficult time than those in the U.S., in part because there is nothing like the Americans with Disabilities Act there.
“They don’t have the same deaf rights as we have here in the U.S.,” Polvere said, explaining that deaf citizens in Chile are not allowed to drive and have access to only very limited hours of closed-captioning television.
“It’s all the little things, and the educational system is very limited,” she said. “Also, here, we have so many more interpreters then they have. They need access to education and accessibility needs, so they are working more on the equality piece of it.”
In addition to spending two weeks in Chile, Polvere backpacked in Argentina and Uruguay with the other students on the trip, where they also had the opportunity to interact with local deaf communities.
“I’m glad I got to travel through some of the country and I’d love to go back,” she said. “I love experiencing new things, and this was new. I’ll never forget the bus ride from Buenos Aires to Mendoza. The mountains were so gorgeous. There are no words to explain it. It was so beautiful.”
Polvere said one of the highlights of her trip was meeting an elderly, hard-of-hearing woman who had fled Nazi Germany and had also lived through the reign of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who ruled the country from 1973-1990.
“It was really touching to have this in-depth conversation about politics,” she said.
Polvere, who has also traveled to Europe and Guatemala, was recently accepted to Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.
“I want to become an American sign language professor and work in a university setting,” she said.
A graduate of Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, Polvere said she very much enjoyed growing up in Barrington.
“It’s a great community,” she said. “I was very involved in the Dolphin Swim Team and all my friends and family are there, so it’s still home. .”
While Polvere said she still enjoys visiting home, she has plans to continue traveling the world and promoting rights for deaf communities everywhere.
“I love traveling and I love meeting deaf people all over the world,” she said. “I enjoy meeting other people and learning from them.”
The deaf communities of South America taught her a great deal during her month-long trip, Polvere said.
“We are focusing on their rights, culture, and what they could do to improve what they have already accomplished,” she said. “They have a long way to go, but they are trying.”