Sign Language Klub possesses much to say
Each semester, about eight students at UALR learn a language without uttering a single word. Classes taught by Glenn Anderson, Linda Stauffer, and other professors of American Sign Language require someone to hear with their eyes and to speak with their hands.
The World Federation of the Deaf, which describes itself as an “international non-governmental organization,” says there are approximately 70 million deaf people around the world.
Although not all can sign and sign language differs from one country to another, Gallaudet University has reported that American Sign Language is one of the most commonly used languages in the United States.
UALR’s Anderson, who is the first deaf African-American in the United States to earn a Ph.D., said social development can suffer and a deaf person can become very isolated if all hearing people do not know how to sign.
American Sign Language allows communication between a hearing person and a deaf or hearing-impaired person or communication between two deaf or hearing impaired individuals.
A hearing person with knowledge of ASL can serve as a conduit between the hearing community and the deaf community, filling the role as an interpreter between the deaf and the hearing.
Stauffer, the Interpreter Education Program Coordinator at UALR, said a couple of her students assist as interpreters at Good Shepherd retirement community. She said that this is a good match for the students because it is a non-threatening environment and has a low-impact interpreting, unlike work or school related interpretation. At Good Shepherd, they have programs such as yoga, bingo, and a lot of interacting time. Niki Charles, a third-year student at UALR majoring in both the ASL/English interpreting and Spanish programs, serves as one of the interpreters.
Charles said the experience has been gratifying.
“My experience has been phenomenal to say the least. Having the ability to communicate in other languages has its advantages, but facilitating communication between two individuals for maximal clarity has even bigger advantages. No person is left behind!”
Good Shepherd is one of the places that interpreting students can apply their knowledge to reality and give service to the community. Charles said, “I have no deaf people in my family and no close friends with deaf people in theirs. It makes it much harder because I wasn’t raised around deaf people, but when you set your mind to wanting to help people, you can climb pretty high ladders to reach your goals.”
UALR offers the only interpreting program in the state and one of only nine accredited bachelor’s interpreting program in the country. Anderson, who has been teaching American Sign Language at UALR for six years, shared his experience teaching all of his students who are hearing. “On the first day, I have to write my name on the board and I let them know that I’m deaf, and they [are] kind of shocked,” he said. This is not a problem, he said, because sign language classes are taught with no voice– regardless of who the teacher is and whether or not they are hearing, hearing impaired or deaf.
As part of welcoming a new year, many people make new year’s resolutions. With a fresh mind after the holidays, learning a new language such as American Sign Language can be a fun and valuable resolution.
Stauffer, who has 32 years of experience being a certified interpreter, commended the language. “It’s a very beautiful, visual, gestural language, and people either love it or they don’t do it.”
An American Sign Language website, Handspeak.com, demonstrates basic signs, such as “I love you,” which is done by putting one’s thumb, index finger and pinkie up, while keeping one’s middle finger and ring finger down.
Not only is it a fun language to learn, Stauffer said, but when it comes to looking for a job, understanding ASL can put someone above others with similar education, since it demonstrates that someone may be more open-minded.
“I think anytime you study a second language, it broadens your perspective about the world, because you learn not only about the language but the people who use it,” Stauffer said.
Learning ASL helps students understand hearing-impaired and deaf people. Some common questions that frequently arise concern the ability of deaf and hearing impaired people and whether they can drive or not. Stauffer explains that deaf people can drive with the help of two mirrors. Stauffer also said that the quality of deaf people’s speech is not tied to their intelligence, another question she said is commonly asked.
Each year, interpreting majors and “Sign Language Klub” members host a variety of shows to help bridge the gap between the hearing and deaf community, such as “See-A-Song,” which is a night of interpreting music into ASL. The event is always free and open to the public. The office of Interpreter Education is located on the fifth floor of Dickinson Hall.