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ASL workshop provides insight on deaf culture

by Nicholas Mazur - Copy Desk Chief
Tue, Oct 3rd 2017 06:00 pm
Photo taken from Wikipedia Commons
There has always been a barrier between the deaf and those who can hear, which can create frustration. Learning sign language is a great way to improve communication between them.
Photo taken from Wikipedia Commons There has always been a barrier between the deaf and those who can hear, which can create frustration. Learning sign language is a great way to improve communication between them.

American Sign Language (ASL) is a way for people who identify as deaf, hard-of-hearing and even those who are able to hear. However, ASL and deaf culture extends far beyond just a language.

Professor Amy Crockford of The College of Brockport and the Brockport Advocates for Students with Disabilities (BAD) held an event in the Seymour College Union, bringing attention to this idea. The objective of the event was to dispel misconceptions about the deaf community, educate on etiquette for interacting with deaf people, and teaching participants some basic signs in order to more smoothly engage with someone from the community.

The community of deaf people is largely present in the Rochester area, particularly in the city. Rochester Institute of Technology is well-known for its concentration of deaf students and faculty. Its website boasts a roster of approximately 1,200 deaf and hard-of-hearing students as well as more than 100 deaf and hard-of-hearing faculty. RIT includes the NTID, or National Technical Institute for the Deaf, one of RIT’s nine colleges, which is devoted and tailored to and for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

It would be impossible to say that Brockport does not live in the influential shadow of Rochester, so this event hosted by BAD made perfect sense and addressed a very relevant issue to every student at Brockport.

Crockford led the event, using her insight into the deaf community to help the audience better understand the nuances of deaf culture they probably were not aware of. Crockford began by briefly delving into her own past as a deaf/hard-of-hearing individual. One of her most important and more nuanced points being the difference between deaf and hard-of-hearing people. 

Crockford pointed out several times during the workshop that she can hear with the help of hearing aids, and that the difference between hard-of-hearing and deaf was not something to be taken lightly. However, Crockford dispelled any fears of calling something the wrong thing by stating that it is different for every person, and they will more than likely tell you how they specifically identity, be it deaf or hard-of hearing.

During the workshop, Crockford championed very hard to get rid of any anxieties that people may have bred out of ignorance about interacting with people in the deaf community. A major point she on hit was touching deaf people on the shoulder, citing that though it might seem rude or uncomfortable to the hearing population, the deaf community finds it perfectly acceptable. She made sure several times during the workshop to address the idea of frustration and discomfort that deaf and hearing people feel about interacting with one another. 

“Have patience, [the] idea goes both ways,” Crockford said, “Try, always try. It can never hurt, even knowing five signs can help.”

According to engadget.com, Uber has this philosophy in mind, adding a feature which gives users a few basic signs so they can communicate with deaf or hard-of-hearing drivers. This came after Uber noticed a spike in the amount of drivers who fall under that category.

Leaving etiquette behind and moving on to practicality, Crockford handed out a sheet to each of the attendees of the workshop. The sheet had the ASL alphabet and numeral system on it for everyone to reference. Crockford walked everyone through every letter and number, making sure everyone was signing together. The room was set up so that the seats formed a “U” shape. Crockford explained it is important for everyone to be able to see everyone signing, as learning to read ASL is just as important and difficult as learning to sign it.

The last exercise of the workshop involved everyone. Every attendee was required to move to the front of the room one by one and sign the phrase, “Hi, my name is ‘____,’ nice to meet you.” Crockford explained that even a simple phrase like this can be immensely helpful when trying to comfortably interact with someone who is deaf or hard-of-hearing. She also took the opportunity to explain the nuance of ASL. She explained that just because ASL is not a vocal language, does not mean that it does not have a brand of inflection all its own. Using the sliding of one hand of over the other to sign “nice” as an example. She showed how a simple, quick sliding one hand down the other can mean one kind of simple inflection, while a long, extended slide of one hand along the other and off into the air can mean something totally different contextually.

The workshop was simple, but gave a concrete understanding and toolkit for someone looking to better understand and interact with the deaf community. The community present in the Rochester area is certainly not going anywhere and workshops like this may very well be what the hearing community needs to start picking up the slack and start fortifying the bridge between the two communities.

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Taken by Vinny Croce:
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