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People: Tulsa U Basketball Player Plans Career as Sign Language Interpreter

Tulsa University Basketball Player Plans Career as Sign Language Interpreter

By Eric Bailey, World Sports Writer, Tulsa World 3/1/2012

NVRC Note: Tulsa World has 4 photos of Denise on its website, with captions, at

Denise Lewis has always been the eyes and ears for her deaf parents.

As a young child, she would go to a store and interpret - through sign language - questions from her mother and father. As a teenager, she even helped her family in the tricky business of purchasing a home by being a communication bridge for her parents.

Lewis has never seen her role as a burden. Instead, it appears to be a launching pad to her dream.

Lewis will play her final home basketball game in Tulsa's meeting against SMU on Thursday night. It's the end of one era for the senior and on to the next for the Jacksonville, Fla., native.

"I want to be an interpreter for the deaf," said Lewis, a communications major. "I want to give back. I know a lot of deaf people and want them to be able to call me up to go to the doctor's office or the store."

Sign language is her "first language," she says.

"I started when I was one year old and I didn't know how to talk," said Lewis, 21.

Dennis Lewis, her father, communicated with his oldest daughter through an Internet video feed this week with his wife, Angela Lewis. Denise Lewis, of course, interpreted while he used sign language.

"He remembers when I was a baby," Denise Lewis said. "My first sign was 'Eat.' Then I started learning my ABCs when I was one year old."

Was Dennis Lewis ever concerned his daughter would be born deaf?

"He said they made noises to see if I was deaf," Denise Lewis interpreted for her father. "If I was deaf, he says they would have accepted me. I was very quiet and not responding to noises, but after they did tests, they found out I wasn't deaf."

Denise Lewis has hearing, as do her younger siblings Annetta, 20, and Dennis Jr., 16. All in the tight-knit family are fluent in sign language.

The pride the parents have for their kids? It's reciprocal.

"I look up to my parents," Denise Lewis said. "They are very strong individuals. They don't care what people think or say. They love themselves."

The parents will watch their oldest daughter play her final Tulsa home game over the Internet on Thursday.

Denise Lewis' minutes are down this season and there have been challenges. What did she learn from her final year at TU?

"I've grown a lot and have seen a lot," Lewis said. "I've learned that I need to be humble and patient about certain things and everything isn't going to go my way. When you are younger, you are more impatient and see certain things from a different point of view."

Lewis' positive attitude comes from her parents, she said. Being deaf is not a disability, her father said.

"He said he's been successful in his life and able to raise a family and see us being successful," Lewis said.