Don't Give Up

MATC alumnus Chucky Humphrey (left) and MATC automotive instructor Scott Fisler at Oak Creek Campus

MATC alumnus Chucky Humphrey (left) and MATC automotive instructor Scott Fisler at Oak Creek Campus

Alumnus who is deaf won't let anything stand in the way of his dreams

Screech. Clank. Scrape. Grind. A car might make all sorts of noises that indicate there is something wrong with its machinery. Automotive technicians listen for those sounds to efficiently diagnose the problem.

Thump. Scratch. Drop. Reverb. A DJ incorporates all kinds of sound effects into a set. Playing music, mixing songs — a DJ’s entire focus is to create a stimulating auditory environment.

But what if you cannot hear? MATC alumnus Chucky Humphrey, deaf since he was a toddler, shares the communication barriers he overcame to earn technical diplomas in both automotive maintenance and audio engineering.

He didn’t dream big when he was a kid. “There’s this mentality among the deaf community that deaf people can do everything that hearing people can do. But growing up, I did not feel that way. I attended a traditional public school and for the first several years, I did not have a sign language interpreter. I was left to my own devices and read the teacher’s lips as best I could. I just mimicked what the other kids did. I definitely felt left out.”

Humphrey finally got an interpreter in middle school. He described it as a culture shock. Suddenly, he could communicate much more easily with his teachers and peers.

In high school, he participated in a future work program that exposed him to careers in a variety of environments, such as retail and healthcare. “There were a couple of other deaf individuals in that training program, so it wasn’t just me. We had an interpreter for some activities, but not always.”

That taught him to work with hearing managers and establish alternative means of communicating because he has not had interpreters in his professional work. “My managers tend to gesture and enunciate their words. Sometimes I read lips, sometimes we write notes back and forth. But those early experiences in the work training program were valuable because now, finding those communication work-arounds is not frustrating for me.”

He first enrolled at MATC in 1994, straight out of high school, to pursue a general liberal arts degree but the courses were not the right fit for him at the time. He then moved to Washington, D.C., where he spent some time at Gallaudet University, a federally chartered private university for the education of the deaf and hard of hearing.

If I'm the first one to break down this barrier and accomplish something, I can pave the way for other students who come after me.

Chucky Humphrey, MATC alumnus

Two decades later, he returned to Milwaukee and MATC. “At that point in my life, it felt like I had been trying different things and nothing was working. I wanted to show my kids that their own father has something that’s different from nothing. That was a big motivator for me.”

The first time he felt a connection with the coursework was during the automotive technology class. Although he found the work interesting, he barely passed the class.

It was difficult to take courses in a sensory-dependent occupation when he could not hear. His hearing peers were hesitant to team up with him for class projects. During a class lab one day, Humphrey alerted his teacher about a broken gas line. He smelled it, then looked for the damage. “My classmates were in disbelief that the deaf guy was the one who noticed. It was a simple fix and no one else noticed but me. So that felt pretty good.”

Then he failed his engine performance course. Twice. “I felt completely lost. I talked with the teacher, Scott Fisler, to learn about additional resources. I took a year off. When I returned, I told myself I’m really going to buckle down and do the best I can.”

The third time around, he managed to pass with the highest grade in the class. “That was when I finally earned my diploma. I was very excited, but it was a very long trek to get there.” He’s been able to pick up work at a friend’s auto shop and also makes money washing cars.

But he wasn’t done yet. He decided to pursue coursework in audio engineering at MATC. “I definitely got some strange looks coming back to campus for an audio engineering technical diploma as a deaf individual. But I just didn’t let it bother me. I said I’m going to do this, and I went for it.” I’ve been thinking about, down the road, fixing cars to be able to fund my DJ business.”

His advice to others: “Don’t give up. I know it’s hard, but you can get past those barriers. You just have to fight for where you want to be.”

MATC is committed to offering a variety of services to meet the needs of students with disabilities – contact Student Accommodation Services at