Admin Office Phone: 256-761-3838
Regional Early Acquisition of Language
The Regional Early Acquisition of Language (REAL) Project is a collaboration between Gallaudet University’s Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center and Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind (AIDB) and is housed on the campus of AIDB in Talladega, Alabama. The REAL Project serves nine Southeastern states including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
The mission of the REAL Project is to ensure that infants and toddlers ranging in age from birth to 3 years old and who are deaf or hard of hearing have full access to languages, including American Sign Language and English. The first few years of life are critical for language acquisition because it prepares children to be “school- ready” with a foundation of language when they enter school.
The REAL Project establishes a network of resources and tools for Early Intervention teams and families.
The REAL Project provides the following to promote accessible early language acquisition
- Technical assistance
Those eligible for assistance include
- First Responders (e.g., audiologists, pediatricians, etc.)
- Early Intervention Service Providers
- Early Childhood Educators
- Parents/Caregivers of Deaf/Hard of Hearing Children from Birth to 3
- Identify First Responders, Early Intervention Providers, Early Educators, and Families
- Connect those with information regarding early language acquisition for the deaf/hard of hearing
- Connect stakeholders with training, resources and materials to support language acquisition
REAL Project Staff
Suzanne Mattox, Director
Suzanne Mattox joined the REAL Project in 2019 as its Director. A native of Birmingham, AL, Suzanne was born profoundly deaf and was raised by hearing parents. Suzanne graduated from Samford University in 2006 with a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood, Special Education, and Elementary Education and from Valdosta State University in 2013 with a Master of Arts in Deaf Education.
Because of her background, Suzanne knew that she wanted to be a teacher for the Deaf and instill a passion for knowledge in her students. Suzanne worked as a preschool teacher for the Deaf at the Preschool Center for the Sensory Impaired in Mobile, AL, for 3 years. Suzanne also worked part time as a special instructor/parent advisor in AIDB’s Early Intervention program, working with several families who had infants and toddlers who were deaf. In 2009 Suzanne moved to Talladega, AL to teach preschool – 3rd grade at Alabama School for the Deaf.
Suzanne’s 13 years of teaching experience in preschool and elementary classrooms for the deaf led her in a different career path, which involves working with Early Intervention and families. Suzanne’s goal is to ensure that each child who is deaf and hard of hearing will be ‘school-ready’ with a strong foundation of language before enrolling in a preschool setting. When Suzanne is not at work, she enjoys reading and spending quality time with her family.
Abby Burke, Trainer
Abby Burke joined the REAL Project as a Trainer in July of 2020. Born and raised in the small town of Bainbridge, GA, she first discovered her love of languages, Spanish and ASL, in high school. During her youth apprenticeship, she discovered that she wanted to pursue a career in Audiology, Deaf Education, Speech Language Pathology, or ASL Interpreting.
Abby went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Education from the University of Georgia with a focus on communication sciences. During her time at UGA, she continued to cultivate her ASL skills through ASL coursework and immersion. She then attended Valdosta State University where she completed an internship at AIDB and graduated with a Masters of Education in communication sciences.
Abby moved to Talladega in the summer of 2015 to begin her career as an Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) at the Alabama School for the Deaf. After 5 years as an SLP, Abby is transitioning to her role as a REAL Trainer for the Southeast Region. Abby’s goal is to support families of children who are deaf or hard of hearing as they navigate through the first few years of life. In her free time, Abby enjoys spending time with her family and friends, traveling and being a Disney fanatic.
Mary Beth Grayson, Interpreter Coordinator
Mary Beth Grayson joined the REAL Project in August 2020. Hailing from a small town in North Carolina, she’s always had a passion for learning by travel and immersion in other cultures. After taking ASL in college she found an affinity for the language and community. She has been interpreting professionally since 2012, holding a Bachelor of Science in ASL-English Interpretation from Eastern Kentucky University and National Interpreter Certification through the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf.
Before joining the REAL Project, Mary Beth lived in South Carolina where she experienced working in a variety of community and educational settings. She also served the South Carolina Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf on the Board of Directors as Vice President and, subsequently, as President. During her tenure she coordinated professional learning opportunities, collaborated with other state organizations for the Deaf, and participated in a task force for legislating interpreter standards.
Mary Beth is excited to be working as the REAL Project Interpreter, and supporting the program’s initiatives in this role. She is a people person at heart and appreciates the opportunity to meet and work alongside other professionals. When she’s not at work, she enjoys baking/cooking, watching documentaries, traveling abroad, and spending time with her husband and pets.
Christie Hauwiller, Family Service Coordinator
Christie Hauwiller joined the REAL Project as a Family Service Coordinator in September 2020. A lifelong resident of Minnesota, Christie relocated to Alabama in September 2015. For over 10 years Christie has worked with individuals who are DeafBlind, both in Minnesota and Alabama, through group homes and deafblind services. Prior to joining REAL, Christie was a support service provider for Alabama DeafBlind/Deaf consumers.
After relocating to Alabama, Christie attended Jacksonville State University where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Sociology and Gender Studies. Through her work with various organizations and her training to become a Deaf Mentor, she realized how much she enjoyed learning about new opportunities and the possibility of working with families and their children. Christie knew that she could help families with children who are deaf and hard of hearing attain opportunities they seek for their children because she has had similar experiences. Christie has seven children and several grandchildren. Christie has one child who is hard of hearing, two children who are deaf and four children who are hearing. She also has one granddaughter who is deaf.
When Christie is not working she enjoys spending time with her family and kayaking, fishing, traveling, running and reading. Christie is excited to begin working with REAL and a wonderful team!
Ukawia Johnson, Family Service Coordinator
Ukawia Johnson joined the REAL Project as a Family Service Coordinator in September 2020. A licensed social worker, Ukawia has earned a Bachelor of Business Administration from Faulkner University and a Bachelor of Science in Social Work, for which she has always had a passion, from Troy University. Ukawia is currently enrolled at The University of Alabama where she is pursuing a master’s degree in social work with a concentration of children, adolescents and families. Prior to becoming a Family Service Coordinator with REAL, Ukawia was employed with Alabama Department of Human Resources for 11 years, where she helped families identify their needs and linked children and families to available resources. She has also served as the lead parent mentor for AIDB’s Limitless Beginnings since 2018.
Ukawia is a member of the Mobile Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Learning Community and a member of the Deaf Advisory committee with ADRS. She also volunteers as a youth counselor for teenagers who are deaf and hard of hearing. In 2019 Ukawia authored an article published in Odyssey magazine entitled, “Deaf Plus: A Mother Reflects on Her Son’s Experience.” As the mother of a son who is deaf, Ukawia is an advocate who believes that it is important for children who are deaf and their families to have continued guidance and support to ensure the family’s overall success.
Ukawia is a resident of Mobile and has two sons, LaJaren and James. In addition to spending time with her family, Ukawia enjoys spending time with her 2 fur babies, Draco and Connie.
Suzanne Sayers, Administrative Assistant
Suzanne Sayers became the REAL Project Administrative Assistant in April 2020. Suzanne has been employed at the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind for 18 years. Suzanne’s career at AIDB began in the Human Resource department before transferring to the E. H. Gentry Facility (EHG) where she worked for 7 years. E. H. Gentry is a training program/rehabilitation campus for Deaf, Blind and General Caseload clients where she enjoyed working with a very diverse population of clients through Adult Education, Independent Living, Assistive Technology, and Work Experience programs. Suzanne left EHG to join the staff of Alabama Industries for the Blind, which provides employment in the manufacturing field to individuals who are blind, visually impaired, Deaf, hard of hearing or multidisabled.
When Suzanne is not at work, she enjoys going to the lake for the weekend, spending time with family, and visiting her daughter in Destin, FL.
Lacey Wood, Trainer
Lacey Wood joined the REAL Project as a part-time Trainer in March 2021. Lacey grew up in central Virginia, but spent her entire adult life in Staunton, a town situated in Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley. She and her family relocated to Oxford, Alabama, four years ago, where they enjoy being outdoors, playing games, baking, reading, and connecting with people.
Lacey did her undergraduate work at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA, studying Communication Sciences and Disorders and Special Education, and engaging in four years of weekly volunteer work at the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind--Staunton (VSDB). In 2000, she began her graduate studies at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, an experience that allowed her to become fully immersed into Deaf Culture and ASL. She earned her Master’s degree in Deaf Education: Multiple Disabilities, and did extensive coursework in Family-Centered Early Education. Upon completing her internship in a Parent-Infant Outreach program, Lacey taught Deaf and Hard-of-hearing (D/HH) preschoolers at VSDB. She then transitioned into Early Intervention as a Special Instructor for D/HH infants, toddlers, and families.
After almost 13 years at home focusing her energies on nurturing and homeschooling her two daughters, Lacey recently completed Gallaudet University’s Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Infants, Toddlers, and their Families Interdisciplinary Graduate Certification Program in preparation for her return to serving in the field of Early Intervention.