Deaf since birth, he worked 25 years with IBM in Poughkeepsie, New York, the last three years training testers internationally. He interacted successfully with the hearing world. Colleagues accepted him and came to respect and appreciate diversity. He even received a Bravo Award for his leadership on a large project.
Then the unthinkable happened. His job was outsourced – to the very people he trained.
They took Timothy Mackey’s livelihood, but they couldn’t steal his passion for helping others learn American Sign Language (ASL) and better understand Deaf culture.
Several job rejections and five years later, he and his wife, Gail, packed their belongings and moved to Kentucky eager for a fresh start. He remembers well the exact date: Nov. 14, 2013. But these days it’s another date on the mind of the 57-year-old Mackey: Saturday, May 13, 2017. That’s when he will cross a stage at spring commencement and receive a bachelor’s degree in Deaf studies from Eastern Kentucky University. He’ll even have the honor of carrying the College of Education flag.
Mackey, who now resides in Berea, didn’t initially join the Colonel family as a student, but as a tutor in the ASL lab of the Department of American Sign Language and Interpreter Education, beginning in February 2014. It was only a part-time job, but the experience did more than alter his life trajectory. It restored his hope.
“I realized how much I enjoyed the students, tutoring, and communicating in my language of ASL,” he said. “At the end of the Spring 2015 semester, the students gave their evaluation feedback regarding my tutoring and teaching skills in the sign lab. Reading the students’ positive feedback on my evaluation had a tremendous impact. Because of their feedback, I decided to go back to college as a student to continue my education.”
In Fall 2015, Mackey decided to begin a new career path and become an ASL teacher. Even though he had grown up in a Deaf residential school in New York and had taught ASL in various settings such as churches and Boy Scouts, it wasn’t until he enrolled at EKU that he began to learn about Deaf history.
"Deaf people in general struggle for acceptance in the hearing world,” Mackey said. “We are often looked down upon as if there is something wrong with us. And there is – we just can’t hear. Other than that, we are the same as anyone else.
“I experienced (discrimination) when I was searching for a job after IBM let me go,” he added. “I had top computer companies calling me after seeing my resume on the web but, as soon as they learned I was Deaf, they would hang up.”
Mackey, who will graduate with a perfect 4.0 GPA, recently received the College of Education Dean’s Award for Outstanding Achievement. He’s looking forward to teaching ASL levels 1, 5 or 6. He said he would also enjoy working as an assistant teacher, Deaf History teacher or an ASL coordinator.
“I have gained so much rich knowledge in interpreting, Deaf culture, Deaf community, Deaf history, Deaf literature, American Sign Languages, and other courses here,” said Mackey, who even had the opportunity to study abroad in Spain last summer. “The ASLIE faculty taught me how to build confidence in myself as a Deaf person, and today I can honestly say after all these years that I am proud to be Deaf – with a capital ‘D.’”
He also cited the unwavering encouragement and support of his “loving” wife, Gail, who “did not give up on me”; his stepdaughter, Jennifer Cortez, whose feedback on assignments proved valuable; and many friends and family, “who kept me in prayer throughout this journey.”
Almost 40 years ago, a story about Mackey, then in his teens, was published in Family Circle magazine. The article was titled “A Deaf Child Leads His Full Life.” Who could have predicted then where the surprising turns that full life would lead, eventually taking Mackey full circle?
“I spent the first half of my adult life working in the hearing environment and, in the last half of my working life, I am looking forward to … teaching about Deaf history and ASL, having an impact on students’ lives, sharing my rich experiences and knowledge with them.”