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s you may already have known, I’m a History Major at Chapman University right now.  I’m allowed to do my Senior Thesis on any historical topic that I want (best news ever, by the way), so I have chosen to become a Deaf Historian for the next year-and-a-half!  I’m studying the National Association of the Deaf films that were made between 1910 and 1920 in an effort to preserve sign language.  So far, it’s been fascinating.  I haven’t been able to get my hands on all the films yet, but I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to soon.  They’re all at the Gallaudet University archives, along with all the correspondence of NAD President George Veditz.  It also looks like a school-sponsored trip to the Gallaudet archives might be in the cards for me.  Super exciting!

So, as part of my task to get rolling on this subject, I had to create an essay on how others have studied that topic in the past.  It’s ten pages long, and heavily footnoted (Yikes!).  I’ve included the intro down below, because I think it really gives a lot of info on the background of the films that’s fun, and also super interesting.  I always say to take my stuff with a grain of salt, because it’s not particularly well-researched, but you can take this one as well-researched fact.  I’ll paste the footnotes at the bottom.  I’ll also post the whole essay at some point, but I want to make it easy for those who don’t want to wade through a ten page essay on historic theory to skip.  🙂  Here it is!

George Veditz and the National Association for the Deaf Films

            In 1880 in Milan, Italy, the International Congress on Education for the Deaf voted to ban the use of sign language in Deaf[1] schools. [2]  Spurred by the rhetoric of Alexander Graham Bell, known to most Americans as the inventor of the telephone, American Deaf schools flocked to comply with the Milan Conference’s decision.  In return, a movement was spawned by Deaf community leaders advocating sign language instruction, fiercely hanging onto the culture they had fought so hard to create.  Still, it looked as if the Deaf were losing this fight as Alexander Graham Bell, a follower of eugenics, tried to convince everyone that the Deaf were forming their own separate race.  Even those who didn’t subscribe to eugenics “demanded the elimination of sign language, believing that it undermined English language acquisition and promoted deaf separatism.” [3]  In the end, deaf people would have to live in a hearing world, they argued, and they should have the skills to deal with that fact. Science has since proved what Deaf people knew all along, that this theory does not work in practicality.  Keeping sign language away from deaf people keeps all language away from deaf people, and can be harmful to cognitive development.[4]  Still, it looked as if sign might become extinct in the near future.

This is the climate in which the National Association of the Deaf, under President George Veditz, decided to make several films for the preservation of Sign Language.  “The N.A.D… has collected a fund of $5,000, called the Moving Picture Fund.” Veditz wrote, “…I am sorry that it is not $20,000.”[5]  With such a limited budget, Veditz and the NAD Board had to decide carefully which signers they would film and what subjects they would cover.  Ultimately, the films they chose to make tended to center on Deaf history, American patriotism, and religion[6].  Eighteen films were made in all, from the years 1913-1920, but only fourteen of these survived to the modern age.[7]  The loss of 4 films was due in large part to their heavy use by the Deaf community, and the poorly trained film operators responsible for winding the machines.

The films were made by pointing a static camera at the signers and having them lecture to it.  Often, small amounts of scenery such as vases and curtains were placed in the background for visual effect.  Because of the black and white picture and the poor resolution of the film, signers had to make sure they produced their signs large and signed slowly so everyone could see them.  After a few mistakes, most notably the film showing Edward Minter Gallaudet’s lecture – a retelling of Lorna Doone – filmmakers were also careful to place the lecturers on plain, dark backgrounds so their hands would show up easily.[8]  These films compared favorably with other films of the time in technical skill and appearance.

Once the films were completed, they were circulated throughout the United States to local Deaf Clubs.  These clubs would often couple the film screening with live entertainment, making each screening a huge event in the local Deaf community.  Large groups of signers would congregate in the hall downtown to see the films.  Sometimes, requests were made for the NAD to send transcripts of the films that could be read for any hearing visitors in the audience.  Although Veditz’s film, featuring his impassioned plea for sign language is the best known today, it was E.M. Gallaudet’s film that was most requested when the films were released, despite the difficult background of his film.[9]  This was probably due to the popularity of E.M. Gallaudet’s father, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet.  T.H. Gallaudet had been instrumental in forming the first school for the Deaf, in Hartford, Connecticut.

Although the films had a major impact on the Deaf community when they were first produced, scholarship on them has been spotty at best.  Many books cover the topic, but devote no more than a few pages to the exploration of the history of these films.  Some give no more than a brief mention to Veditz’s films as being the precursor to modern Sign Language recording.  This paper attempts to explore in greater detail not only the motives behind George Veditz’s creation of these films, and how these films influenced deaf culture as a whole, but also why the topic hasn’t been better covered by Deaf Historians.

That’s it for now.  I hope you enjoyed! 🙂  Also, a link to Veditz’s film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XITbj3NTLUQ


[1] The deaf community uses the term “Deaf” with a capital D to denote the segment of deaf people who consider themselves culturally deaf.  This separates them from other groups such as the elderly, who may experience total hearing loss, but hardly identify with the Deaf as a community.  I feel it is important to make this designation in the language Deaf people use about themselves, and have continued this practice throughout the paper.

[2] Daniel Eagan, America’s Film Legacy, (The Continuum Publishing Group: New York, 2012), Page 11

[3] Signs of Resistance, Page 3

[4] Oliver Sacks, Seeing Voices: A Journey Into the World of the Deaf, (University of California Press: Berkley, 1990), Page 54

[5] Eagan, America’s Film Legacy, Page 11

[6] Susan Burch, Signs of Resistance: American Deaf Cultural History 1900-WWII, (New York University Press: New York, 2002), Page 58

[7] Carol Padden and Tom Humphries, Inside Deaf Culture, (Harvard University Press: Massachusetts, 2005), Page 58

[8] Padden and Humphries, Inside Deaf Culture, Page 63

[9] Padden and Humphries, inside Deaf Culture, (Harvard University Press: Massachusetts, 2005), Page 63

I just attended a whole day of Orientation events at Chapman University.  I was thrilled to find that they had ASL interpreters for all the large group events with podium speakers!  For the 1 1/2 hour long convocation ceremony, they even had a team!  First of all, props to Chapman for understanding and paying for the services Deaf people need.  That being said, I think they could improve their service even more.

My husband works at Chapman University, which means that I get to meet all sorts of behind-the-scene University people that most students don’t.  At a wedding a while ago, I met the woman who was in charge of booking the interpreters for special events at Chapman.  She told me that they were looking to improve the services they offered.  I believe I told them about RID certification and how that was a really good way to know you have an amazing interpreter.

The interpreters yesterday were a mixed bag.  I think they probably came from an agency, but really I’m just guessing.  The first group I watched was a team of two women.  The first woman was absolutely amazing and gave an equal-access interpretation.  She was funny when the speaker was funny, extremely animated, and caught almost every bit of information being thrown out by the speaker.  The second gal was not as good.  To be fair, she was interpreting for a man using lots of folksy language and English idioms, but I felt that she didn’t match the speaker very well and she left out a lot of non-essential information.

The team did well, though.  I hardly noticed when they switched between each other and they even kept interpreting through the non-captioned video that was shown.  I was thoroughly impressed.

That night, I went to a talk on the History and Traditions of Chapman University.  It was such a cool and funny class.  I was sitting in a really bad place to watch the interpreter (there were very tall people all around me and she was standing on the floor).  While I can’t really comment on the rest of the interpreting job she was doing, she didn’t interpret through the non-captioned movie, which I didn’t appreciate.

The two bits of advice I would have to Chapman about using interpreters in the future would be to ask the agency for people who are RID certified or have been interpreting more than five years.  They do so much to make their students feel welcome, and I really think it would be such a relief for Deaf students to see that they were getting equal access to information being presented.  It would make Deaf parents feel that they were leaving their student in the hands of someone who not only cares, but is willing to go above and beyond to meet the needs of their child.

The second piece of advice would be to put those interpreters on a podium, please!!  I’d like to be able to see them no matter where I was sitting, and a little elevation will do just that.

Chapman University is a class act.  For people who know next to nothing about interpreters or interpreting, they did really well!  I was impressed by everything I saw yesterday, not just the interpreters.  Watching their interpreters made me feel like they really cared, though.  They really wanted everyone to have a good experience at orientation, not just the “normal” hearing freshmen.  I think I’m going to like attending here!

y ASL pin came several months ago, and I’ve been wearing it proudly.  For those who are interested in that sort of thing, here it is:  I’m now equipt and ready to help anyone who signs!

 have a very exciting announcement!  At least, I’m very excited about it.  I have officially dropped out of Mt. San Antonio College.  With budget cut after budget cut, I just can’t get classes for the life of me.  I’m now 2 years behind in a 3 year program (of which I had taken the first year before I started at Mt. SAC), and I’m afraid of how much longer it will take me to get through if I stay with the current plan.

The new plan is to transfer to Golden West College.  The same price as Mt. SAC with a good overall reputation, It looks like I’ll be able to get into all the classes I need fairly easily (!!!).  It also looks like their program is a little less strict than the Mt. SAC program, but that doesn’t bother me at all.  I’m ready to get my hands in the air, and I’ve decided that I just can’t wait as long as Mt. SAC expects me to, crossing my fingers every year that I get into the class I need this time.

On the other front, I start attending Chapman University for my BA this year.  I love telling people I’m a History major and then, when they ask me what I plan to do with that degree, tell them “ASL Interpreter”.  I get many odd looks, and it’s lots of fun.  Of course, then I have to explain to them that I need a BA in anything to get certified, I’ve always liked History, and I figure why not get a degree in it.  Especially when any degree is helpful.

Chapman so far has been a dream come true.  Their registration proccess and welcoming attitude have been so amazing that it makes me want to cry.  I’ve never felt so wanted by an institution in all my life, and after all the denials and struggles to register at community college, it’s been amazing to feel liked.  I’ve looked carefully at making a custom minor for myself there, in Deaf Studies.  All I’m waiting for is to submit my plan to the accademic council.  Here’s the proposal I’m sending them:  I hope it works!!!  I’ll keep you posted on what happens with this, and on any really cool stuff I learn along the way.

To whom it may concern:

I am interested in pursuing a custom minor in Deaf Studies from Chapman University.  I believe that with my course work from Mt. San Antonio College, supplemented by some of the upper-division course work from Chapman, I will be able to achieve a relevant degree in this subject from your university.  These are the classes I propose to use toward that minor:

Lower Division: (10 units total)

American Sign Language 4 – 4 units.  This class has been taken through Mt. San Antonio College.  The course description is as follows:  72 hours lecture.  Emphasis on expressive conversational skills in American Sign Language along with continued focus on grammatical and cultural features.  CSU/UC transferable.

American Deaf Culture – 3 units.  This class has been taken through Mt. San Antonio College.  The course description is as follows: 72 hours lecture.  American Deaf cultural norms, values, mores, and institutions.  CSU transferable.

American Sign Language Structure – 3 units.  This class has been taken through Mt. San Antonio College.  The course description is as follows: 54 hours lecture.  Linguistic Study of American Sign Language, including phonology, morphology, and syntax.  Sociolinguistic issues will also be discussed.  CSU/UC transferable.

Upper Division: (12 units total) – These classes would be taken at Chapman University.  After the proposed class, I have included a description as to how I think each class will contribute to my understanding of Deafness.  There are more than twelve units worth of classes listed, and I thought that the GE committee and myself could pick twelve units from this list so as to come up with the strongest combination of classes in this minor.

COM 480, Nonverbal Communication – 3 units.  While American Sign Language is the preferred communication system used throughout the American Deaf community, some Deaf people have had limited exposure to ASL or have not learned to use it at all.  On the other end of the spectrum are Deaf people who have not had much exposure to English and cannot use language alone to communicate with the hearing world around them.  I believe that this class will help me better understand these groups of people and how they communicate with the world through methods other than language.

IES 413, Current Issues in Disability Studies and Services – 3 units.  Deaf people don’t consider themselves disabled, yet use and benefit from many of the services available to disabled groups.  By studying these services and issues, and also the viewpoint of non-disabled groups toward the disabled,  I will have a better understanding of the options available for Deaf people living in America and how being grouped with the disabled effects their lives both positively and negatively.

Independent Study – 3 units.  I propose concentrate on one of two topics.  The first is to study George Veditz and the National Association of the Deaf’s quest to preserve American Sign Language for future generations during the early 1900’s through the use of film.  As part of this topic, I would also like to study similar efforts today to preserve ASL on film.  A second possibility would be to study Deaf art and literature and how it depicts and shapes the Deaf world view.

Internship – 3 units. I would like to intern with either the Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness (GLAD), or Deaf West Theater.  These are both premiere Deaf-run institutions in Southern California and I believe that interning at one of these places will give me practical insight into Deaf Culture and the Deaf way of life that cannot be achieved through classes alone.  Both groups accept interns frequently.

This equals 22 units, one more than the 21 unit minimum required to qualify for a minor per the 2011-2012 Academic Catalogue.  I have also looked carefully at the other language-based minors at Chapman and believe that these selections are in keeping with the theme of those programs.

In addition to this information, I would also like to present the requirements to several Deaf Studies minors from various colleges across America.  I believe they will show you that the course of study above is consistent with established programs across the nation.

Gallaudet University, the premier institute for the Deaf,  includes:

  • American Sign Language courses
  • Deaf Culture
  • American Sign Language Structure
  • Disability Studies
  • Internship
  • Introduction to Deaf View/Image Art

Rochester Institute of Technology, an institution allied with the National Technical Institute for the Deaf:

  • American Sign Language courses
  • Deaf Culture in America
  • Linguistics of American Sign Language
  • Special Topics: Deaf Art and Cinema
  • Oppression in the Lives of Deaf People

University of Southern Maine includes:

  • American Sign Language courses
  • Introduction to the Deaf World (Deaf Culture)
  • ASL Linguistics
  • Research Internship
  • Deaf Art, Film, and Theater

Boston University includes:

  • American Sign Language courses
  • History and Culture of the Deaf
  • American Sign Language Structure
  • Field Experience
  • Deaf Literature and ASL Folklore

Thank you so much for your consideration in allowing me to take this minor.  Please let me know if there’s anything else I can do to make this decision easier.

Sincerely,

Casey E. Hamilton

n my interpreting class last night everyone was required to do a group presentation on a topic of their choice.  There are only four boys in the class, so they all banded together and decided to do gender issues in interpreting.  Out of all the presentations, theirs impressed me the most.  They brought up a ton of interesting stuff.  that I had never contemplated before about interpreting for a person of the opposite gender.

*Disclaimer: There are dirty words in this post.

To start off their presentation one of the boys signed a story to us and asked us to write down our interpretation.  He told us it was an informal conversation among friends, so we should keep that in mind while interpreting.  My translation was “3 of my friends and I went out to a bar.  We were sitting at the counter when this girl walked up and sat down.  Her skirt was so short, you could totally see her vagina.”    Other girls had written down silly euphemisms like “Lady Junk” and our female teacher wrote down “she was clearly not wearing chonies.”

The boy’s point on this was that none of those words would have come out of their mouths… possibly vagina, but not very likely.  When they did the same excercise, they came up with words that would be considered much dirtier, like pussy and snatch… words that most females feel uncomfortable saying.  I’ve spent a lot of time around (extremely) rude and crass boys before, but none of those other terms came to my mind as I was translating.  I don’t know if I was just so concentrated on the meaning that I forgot I was representing someone else’s conversation, or if it’s truly because I’m female and uncomfortable with saying those things.  Maybe it was a little of both.  I think this exercise was a drastic example of how the male mind and the female mind work completely differently, and that you have to be aware of those things if you’re going to interpret for someone of the opposite gender.

Another thing they brought up was “Passive Voice”.    Passive Voice is a way of speaking and acting towards another person that is deferential.  Women often use passive voice when interacting with people, both male and female, so as not to be perceived as bitchy.  We do it without thinking about it, so it’s not a conscious choice or anything.  Males, however, often use a more aggressive voice – especially in business situations.  This will influence your interpreting style.

To illustrate this, the boys talked about the story of a woman interpreter and her male deaf client who was a manager at a company.  She noticed as she was interpreting for him at work meetings that the assignments he gave people either didn’t get done or got done much slower than some of the other manager’s requests.  She decided to have a chat with her client about how he wanted to be perceived around the office and then did her best to perpetuate that image through her speaking, even if it was uncomfortable for her.  People suddenly started taking his assignments more seriously.  When her client’s work evaluation came up, she did the same.  Instead of saying things like “I think I did pretty well this year”, she would say things like, ” I did great this year and this is why.”  She said she felt very rude and pushy doing it that way, but the performance evaluation went amazingly well.  When it was over, her deaf client told her it was the best evaluation he had ever had.

I think this is another good example of an interesting thing: I know how to be a woman in the world, but in order to be a good interpreter I should also learn about being a man in the world as best I can.  If I don’t learn more about gender dynamics and how men operate, I can potentially hurt a client by misrepresenting him.  I mean, best case scenario – he sounds silly.  Worst case scenario – he misses out on a promotion because he’s perceived as weak.

It’s a lot of food for thought, and something I’ve never really pondered before.  This interpreting stuff is harder than it looks!!

At Disneyland where I work, they allow you to have a n extra little pin at the bottom of your name tag if you speak a language other than English.  I think the idea is that people from all over the world come to Disneyland and should you need extra assistance talking to anyone, you can just pull your friend aside who has a “Mandarin” name tag on and they can help you (or whatever language you need).  They’re really stringent about who they let have a pin.  You have to go and do a special test with a native speaker of that language.  If you pass the test, they put our name on a list, and only people with their name on the list are allowed to have the pin.

They offer an ASL name tag, but I’ve been holding off on getting one until I felt I knew enough sign to really help someone.  Besides, the guy I would be testing with is a CODA, interpreted for Hundreds of years at Disney World (OK, I’m exaggerating), and is now head of disability services for the whole park… very nerve-wracking.  I’m starting interpreting classes now, though.  I felt like this was something I should certainly be able to pass.  I also felt like this is just the first in a series of tests that I’m going to be taking in the next few years, so I better get used to it. 

Really, it ended up being super easy and a lot of fun.  The guy who tested me was extremely friendly and knowledgeable.  As soon as he started explaining what would happen, I knew I would pass no problem.  The test consisted of three parts:  Part one, he would give me a vocabulary work and I would sign it back to him.  Part two, he would sign a work or small phrase and I would tell him what he said.  Part 3 was a short conversation.  I don’t think I’ve taken a test so easy since ASL 1.  He was impressed that I knew the sign for “tickets” (super-easy!!!) and the hardest thing he signed to me was that he lost his 7-year-old daughter and explained to me what she was wearing.  The conversation part consisted  of the information you give to every deaf person you meet at any Deaf Event.  When the test was over, he told me that he thought it was the quickest he’s ever given, as he just skipped over the easy stuff.  Let me tell you, I felt great!!

The best part about the meeting, though, was all the information he gave me on Deaf Services at Disneyland.  He was saying that people will see my pin and expect me to be an expert, so he’d give me all the information he could.  Such cool stuff!! They have a little handheld Closed Captioning device that’s radio-tuned to the ride, so people on the ride can read what the overhead voice is saying in places like the haunted mansion.  They also offer interpreted performances four days a week, 2 days at California Adventure, and 2 days at Disneyland.  I have to say, I kinda want to ask for one of those Closed Captioning devices the next time I’m in the park.  It would be fun to see how accurate they are and how easy they are to read and use while riding the ride.  I’ll definitely have to do that and report back. 

The other thing we discussed that I thought was interesting is when I’m allowed to interpret and when I’m not.  It’s all stuff we’ve covered in classes I’ve taken too, but I thought it was great that he’s concerned about Deaf people having qualified interpreters when they need them.  All in all, I was very impressed with my Disney Deaf experience.  I can’t wait to try out their stuff for myself.  And in the mean time, I’ll be waiting for my pin to arrive!!

I started my first interpreting class two weeks ago, and boy are we talking about some interesting things!!  The name of the class is “Principles of Interpreting” and, as my teacher says, it’s everything about interpreting that doesn’t have to do with ASL.  We’ve been dealing with dress codes, on the job stress, talking about types of interpreting (who knew there were so many?!), and all sorts of other things. 

The topic I’m finding most pertinent right now is on the job stress.  A few weeks ago, I was in a work-type situation where there were a mixed group of Deaf and Hearing folks.  A very Audist gentleman was being a total A$$H*!@ to the Deaf folks, much more so than to any of the hearing.  He would spontaneously yell and reprimand people publicly.  I even once heard him say “I don’t care about Deaf Culture, I just want you to do it my way.”  I was not the interpreter in this situation (thank God!!)  but boy was I stressed!!  I think the worst thing for me was that this gentleman came into the situation spouting all the right stuff about Deaf Culture and Deaf rights.  It wasn’t that he didn’t know better.  it was just that, when push came to shove, he didn’t care.I was so stressed one night that – I’ll admit it – I went home and cried. 

In class, we’ve been talking about worse situations than the one I experienced, such as being the operator for a 911 VRS call, or having to tell someone in a hospital that their mother just died.  I’ve heard all this can wear on an interpreter until the experience what’s called Vicarious Trauma.  Don’t worry, I’m not re-thinking my desire to become an interpreter, I’m just thinking about all the tools I’ll need to handle this.

I have never handled stress very well.  My usual master plan is to go home and have a good cry, which frankly frightens my husband.  Crying is not a good strategy for stress management, at least not for me.  But what other tools can I use?  I’ll be pondering that as I take the rest of this course.  Along with everything else I’m learning.

In the late 1600’s, an extended family from Weald, England settled on the island of Martha’s Vineyard in New England.  The family carried a strong hereditary deafness gene, and as they married and intermarried, the rate of deaf people born on the island rose steadily.  By the 1700’s almost everyone on the island had a deaf family member or two.  Because of the high rate of deafness, the society on the island was completely different from mainstream, mainland society.

Mainland New England at this time was generally a terrible place for deaf people to live.  Many people believed that deafness was a punishment from God.  While the families of deaf children may have developed home signs, mainstream society could not understand these rudimentary signs, usually only good for expressing basic needs and requests, and different from home to home.  Scholars debated about whether a deaf person could reason and learn like a hearing person.  There were almost no career opportunities for deaf adults.  The best they could hope for was to be trained to do manual labor for someone else’s business.

The prospects for deaf people on Martha’s Vineyard were completely different.  Many of the former residents of the island were interviewed, and they paint an idyllic picture of what it was like to live in Martha’s Vineyard during this time.  Because everyone had a deaf family member, everyone in the community knew sign language.  Deaf people were farmers, store clerks, anything they wanted to be.  Hearing people would sign to each other over the large expanses the island farms created, a deaf person could walk into a store and the clerk would always know sign.  Deaf people were even elected to high political office, becoming mayors and council members for the island, a thing unheard of in the rest of the country.  When telling stories about the community, the people who were being interviewed could only remember after much prompting if the people they were talking about were hearing or deaf.

The rare deaf/hearing equality experienced in Martha’s Vineyard is still remarkable today.  In a society where hearing people are ignorant about deaf issues and can be very rude, a place like Martha’s Vineyard seems particularly wonderful.  The equality that was shared by everyone, and the prejudices about deaf people that didn’t exist, make the little island community seem like the perfect place.  Many deaf people consider it the ultimate utopia.

Ironically, the opening of the first deaf school in Hartford, Connecticut was a big reason why the hereditary deafness on the island petered out.  Many deaf people from the island attended the school, met and married other deaf people who’s deafness wasn’t hereditary, and lived and had children near the school on the mainland of New England.  As more and more of the population moved away, less and less deaf children were born on the island.   In 1952, hereditary deafness died on the island with the death of Katie West.  Though the community is gone today, it’s signs live on.  Children attending the Hartford school mixed their signs in with the French Sign Language Laurent Clerc brought with him from Paris, creating much of the uniquely beautiful American Sign Language that exists today.

he MacArthur Fellowship Genius Grants were announced a few days ago.  For those of you who don’t know what this is, the John D. and Catherine T. Macarthur foundation gives $500,000.00 to 20-40 Americans who “show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work.”  These Americans can be in any field and they can spend the money on whatever they feel like, no strings attached.

This year Carol Padden was one of the recipients!  Carol and her husband, Tom Humphries, wrote several books about Deaf Culture, including “Deaf in America: voices from a culture”, “Inside Deaf Culture”, and two textbooks for learning American Sign Language.  I have read many of her books and consider them some of the best I’ve ever read on the subject of Deaf Culture.

Carol was born Deaf to her two Deaf parents and she also has a Deaf brother.  She attended a Deaf elementary school for a time before being put into a mainstream school.  Currently, Carol is a professor at University of California San Diego and studies signed languages.  She recently studied a new signed language in Africa that uses the actual body of the signer to indicate pronouns, as opposed to the area around the signer as in American Sign Language.

Carol is the first ever Deaf recipient of the Genius Grant.  She says she has no concrete plans for the money yet, but will probably use it for creative research.  “Maybe I have a few wild ideas I’ve been obsessing about,” she said in an interview “But they’re a little bit crazy. I’m not going to tell you about them until I can make them sound a little more rational.”

Not only am I excited that the field of Sign linguistics has gotten such amazing recognition, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer person.  Congratulations Carol Padden!!!

aturday was horrifically hot and awful.  It was over 100 degrees, and you could see the waves of heat coming off the macadam roadways.  Instead of staying inside like any decent person would, I worked Deaf West’s booth at DEAFestival LA.  Aside from the unbearable heat, I had an amazing time!

My shift at the booth was supposed to start at 2:00, but I hit the inevitable LA traffic.  That, coupled with a 3 car accident on the side of the road, served to make me a bit late.  As I pulled off the freeway, I saw with relief the little sign procaiming DEAFestival parking, and a blue arrow pointing the way in.  Murphy’s law tends to work out so that whenever I’m running late, I usually get lost too.  I was excited that didn’t have to worry about that today.  I drove down a dusty road while a volunteer pointed me to park in a vast expanse of dustiness.  There was a bus, shuttling people from parking lot to festival, so I retrieved my purse from the back seat of the car, straightened my new blue “Deaf West” shirt, and trudged through the dust to the bus stop.  I was excited when I knew one of the volunteers helping people park!  She also volunteers at Deaf West sometimes.  We chatted a little before I took my place in the shade to await the bus.

It probably took less that 15 minutes for the bus to arrive, but the opressive heat made it seem like much longer.  My little Disney Heat Index trained self was telling me to drink water NOW or suffer the consequesces.  Too bad I hadn’t brought any with me.  As I waited, I caught snippets of conversation from the others waiting for the bus.  I think that’s the first time I’ve understood parts of ASL conversation without trying too.  Evidence I’m getting better?

The bus dropped us all off underneath a line of tall pine trees, next to another field of dustines.  Blue Easy-ups stretched out in the vast expanse of brown dirt while people bustled here and there.  I joined them, determined to rush around and find the Deaf West booth as quickly as possible.  As soon as I joined the crowd, a woman stopped me.

“Hi!  You work for Deaf West?” she asked, signing with a very student accent.

“No, I’m a volunteer.” I signed back.

“Are you hearing?”  She asked me.

“Yes.”

“Oh thank goodness.”  She said to me in English.  She wanted to know about volunteering at Deaf West.  I told her that I considered it an amazing experience, that they needed people for just about everything, and that she could go on the website and fill out their form if she was interested.  We exchanged names, and I went on my way.

I found the booth pretty quickly, in the middle of the middle aisle.  Ty, the Deaf West representative was chatting with someone in front of me.  “Hi!” I signed to him, ” I’m volunteering today. I’m soooo sorry I’m late!”

“Don’t worry about it.”  He signed back to me, and I took my place behind the counter.  The next two hours were great.  I chatted with people in my bad ASL, handed out forms, asked them if they wanted to win tickets, explained the shows that were coming up, and all together had an amazing time.  They even had bottles of water for us to drink so we didn’t get dehydrated!  The other girl who was volunteering with me was an ASL 2 student, and she did so well!!  I don’t know that I would have done as well as she did when I was in ASL 2.  We made friends fast,  and exchanged numbers at the end of our booth stint.  Several Deaf people asked me my name, several more decided to tease me (which I always enjoy), and I saw a lot of funny t-shirts.  “I laughed my ASL off” was one of the t-shirts I really liked, but my favorite by far was “Don’t Scream, I’m not that Deaf.”  I also saw a LOT of people I knew milling about in the crowd.  It was exciting to know that I was recognizing people and becoming a part of the community, slowly but surely.

When my booth stint was up, I wandered around for a few minutes.  I decided several months ago that my dream interpreting job would be to work for GLAD (Greater Los Angeles Agency for the Deaf), so I was excited to see their signs.  I took a bunch of fliers, figuring I would peruse them later.   I also walked around to see if there was any ASL merchandise I wanted to buy.  Sadly there were only two booths selling things, and they were things I really wasn’t interested in.  The other thing I really missed was the TTY museum.  Maybe they decided not to attend because all their antique machines would be outside in the dust.  Aside from all the booths with Deaf themes, booths from the city of Los Angeles were there too. The Democratic party had a booth, the water district had a booth, and so did one of the candidates for city council.  It was nice to see people who aren’t part of the Deaf community trying to participate.  I commend them for trying, but it didn’t seem like many people were interested in what they were doing.  To be honest, I wasn’t very interested in what they were doing either.

I had an appointment that evening, so after I strolled leisurely through the rows of booths, I took the bus back to my dust-covered car and went on my merry way.  It was a great day!  I think my ASL stood up really well to the challenge of explaining things, I got to meet neat people, and I got to spend time with the Deaf community.  What could be better than that?  Not a whole lot.

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