American Sign Language club members raise cultural awareness for the deaf

Published by adviser, Author: Chloe Finigan - Rocket Contributor, Date: March 7, 2013
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Picture yourself not being allowed to speak for a whole day. It may seem trivial for some, but when put into practice, it yielded more complex results for SRU’s American Sign Language club.

The American Sign Language (ASL) club members participated in “A Day of Silence” this past week to raise awareness for deaf culture and had many different experiences.

Junior exercise science major Melissa Johnson, 20, who has been partaking in Day of silence for the last three years, said she found that most people are very accommodating.

“I was in this class where some guy was trying to get me to talk, but the other students told him not to be ‘that guy’,” Johnson said.

Johnson said participants always find someone teasing you or attempting to “break you,” but many students and professors respect the vow of silence.

Junior secondary English education major Joey Steiff is another student who is a member of the ASL club who participated in “A Day of Silence.”

Steiff, 20, reflected on the positive experiences he has had with the event in the last three years, ever since he began participating.

“I have roommates who are really cool with it and work with me,” Steiff said. “And they are really good at it!”

Although many students found positive experiences, the importance of discussing the negatives is not overlooked during the ASL meetings.

Steiff said he has a friend who refuses to communicate with him when he uses sign language.

“It hurts because she’s my friend, but more importantly, I want to tell her that you can’t ignore someone just because communicating is a little bit of a challenge for you,” Steiff said.

Johnson also talked about being ignored in classroom discussions that she usually was very active in because she would have to sign her answer instead of speak it.

“I wanted to tell a story in class, but held back because it would take longer to explain than it was worth,” she said.

Some of these experiences that students go through during the Day of Silence are not only because of their personal initiative, but it also gives the club an idea of how the Slippery Rock community – being a hearing community – reacts to a deaf person.

In fact, junior psychology major and vice president of ASL Ashley Snyder, 20, found that many people actually believed she was deaf.

“What shocked me the most when we do Day of Silence,” Snyder said, “is that people think we’re deaf!”

Snyder said that understanding and documenting these reactions, while being treated as a deaf person, helps participants get in the mindset of what a deaf person goes through in a hearing world, and also aids the group in growing to accommodate those circumstances.

“[The experience] also personally reinforces the reason why I started to learn sign and deaf culture,” Snyder said. “It is truly an amazing group of people.”

Events like “A Day of Silence” are great for raising awareness because it highlights the conflict between the deaf and hearing community and puts it in the face of the public, according to Snyder. She added that they hope to continue events like this, as well as offer students new opportunities to learn about the deaf culture.

According to the students who participated in the event, no matter how positive people can be, there is still a long way to go.

“Being deaf shouldn’t be this taboo thing,” Steiff said. “They can’t hear, but it doesn’t mean they’re not human anymore.”

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