Deaf Studies Interpreting Program Coordinator Becky Brooks demonstrates the alphabet for an American Sign Language I class on Jan. 4 at the Lancaster Campus.
Photographer: Jennifer LaRue
Students Jaime Bruner and Abbie Dandurand test “Math Stack,” a game for deaf elementary students, with Deaf Studies Interpreting Program Coordinator Becky Brooks (center).
Photographer: Jennifer LaRue
Sharon Cook interprets for an exhibit at the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) in Columbus. The event was part of COSI’s Deaf Awareness Day, which was coordinated by members of the Lancaster Campus' American Sign Language Club.
Photographer: Gerald Eichler
Jan 5, 2011
This special Compass series features the programs and initiatives through which Ohio University students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends put the OHIO vision into practice every day.
Many people are surprised to learn that American Sign Language (ASL) is the fourth most common language in the United States. But this little-known fact is common knowledge for students in Ohio University’s Deaf Studies Interpreting (DSI) program on the Lancaster Campus.
Having originated at the Chillicothe Campus, the DSI associate’s degree program is in the process of expanding to the Lancaster Campus due to the number of interested students. The program has inspired a revival of Lancaster’s American Sign Language club, which has grown to include nearly 200 students and graduates on the Lancaster and Chillicothe campuses.
Together, DSI students and ASL Club members are working across the community to create more inclusive classrooms, where hearing-impaired students and their peers can learn side-by-side.
The gift of fun
Students in OHIO’s American Sign Language III classes work each quarter to design games for hearing impaired children in elementary and middle schools. During a recent quarter about a dozen board games were created, complete with cards, dice, timers, spinners and instructions.
“There is a tremendous shortage of games for deaf children, specifically games that focus on their language, their culture or their history,” noted Lorraine Rogers, a DSI instructor on the Lancaster Campus.
During the research phase of the project, students contacted schools to assure that teachers would accept their games. Some students e-mailed teachers to determine their students’ needs while others consulted with ASL linguists.
Students also tailored their games to fit learning environments – a factor that could impact the success of a game, according to Becky Brooks, who coordinates the DSI program at the Lancaster Campus.
While about one-fourth of deaf children attend residential schools for the deaf, many hearing impaired children are mainstreamed in classrooms using learning aids or assistive listening devices, she explained.
In “Math Stack,” a game developed for elementary school students, a farm theme is used to address word problems – a common stumbling block for deaf students, according to Brooks.
Designed by students Jaime Bruner and Jennifer Seifert, the game includes small animals as game pieces to accommodate the visual and tactile learning styles of many deaf children.
Because there are not many games devoted to deaf culture and history, students Abbie Dandurand and Dana DeHays developed “Deaf Trivia Now!” Geared toward middle school students, the game features a history timeline of people, places and the development of deaf culture.
At the project’s conclusion, games were sent to their respective schools.
“Sometimes students get pictures of the kids playing the games. They often receive thank you letters. I did have one group that wanted to fly to their school to present their game. Of course, that school was in Hawaii,” Brooks added with a laugh.
Dandurand and DeHays donated “Deaf Trivia Now!” to the Illinois School for the Deaf. Bruner and Seifert’s game went to the North Dakota School for the Deaf. Other game recipients included a hearing impaired unit at Amanda-Clearcreek Schools across the county, as well as programs in Ohio, Colorado and Tennessee.
Drama in signing
DSI students and members of the deaf community made an Ohio tradition more accessible last summer when they participated in signing during the outdoor drama "Tecumseh!" The play annually runs throughout the summer in Chillicothe.
Students and faculty attended an early performance of the play, to get a sense of the pace and the action and to discuss details, such as placement of the students during the performance.
“We need to find spots so that the students are visible, but not obtrusive,” Rogers noted.
The students studied the script, translating it from English to ASL. They then signed each act of the play in tandem from a balcony, accented by a blue-filtered light.
“The students need to have little bit of ‘ham’ in them,” Rogers said. “Because this is a play, they need to do more than just interpret words. The students need to portray the whole picture, such as emotions, feelings, intentions. This type of situation calls for them to be more animated than in typical situations.”
To bring authenticity to their performances, the students learned the American dialects of the time depicted in the play. Without this knowledge, explained Brooks, interpreters cannot effectively convey the true meaning and intent of the message.
But dialect was among the small hurdles while interpreting for "Tecumseh!"
“I think the toughest challenge – besides making sure that the students were accurate in their interpretations – was to get the students to convey the emotional and theatrical intent of the actor or actors,” Brooks said, adding, “In the end, they did a fabulous job.”
“This type of experience is invaluable,” said DSI student Julie Parma. “Once the performance begins, you cannot hit the ‘pause’ button. This is learning to sign in real time.”
Deaf Awareness Day at COSI
After reviving the Lancaster Campus’ ASL Club, Bruner, the club’s current president, suggested members host a Deaf Awareness Day at the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) in Columbus.
Her dream became a reality last February, when practicum interpreting students and professional interpreters worked side by side to make all of the presentations accessible through sign language. Bruner also negotiated a reduced rate for hearing impaired individuals and their families.
Almost 250 deaf individuals and their family members took advantage of the special day. Bruner said that with this success under their belt, the club is planning a second COSI Deaf Awareness Day in March.
In addition to translating, fundraisers are a big part of the ASL Club’s mission. A recent bake sale sponsored 11 children at the Deaf Kids and Teens Camp through the Deaf Services Center. The club also supports families of deaf children in attending ASL camps.
Other events sponsored by the ASL Club include “silent” events – in which hearing and deaf individuals agree not to use their voice for a period of time. These types of immersion opportunities have enabled club members to bridge cultures and to learn from the experiences of others, Bruner said.
“This increased awareness and understanding makes us better communicators,” she added.
Fistfuls of laughter
After watching a YouTube video of comedian Keith Wann signing his interpretation of ‘Ice Ice Baby,’ Communications Studies major Jenny Sheline decided to invite him to appear at the Lancaster Campus.
Wann, who produces the “ASL Comedy Tour” and “ASL Across America,” is a leading advocate for the hearing impaired. As a child of deaf parents, Wann possesses a unique ability to bridge his two worlds with hilarious, and often thoughtfully solemn, stories.
Sheline and her husband, Jonathan, both nontraditional students, were thrilled with Wann’s performance, his message and the nearly full theater.
“This show opened my eyes to how big of a deaf community we have in central Ohio, and how little interaction with the hearing population there really is,” said Sheline. “Keith was able to bring us all together, even if for just a night.”
As she was interpreting the Honors Convocation program at the Lancaster Campus last year, Deaf Studies Interpreting Program Coordinator Becky Brooks was honored with the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Professor of the Year award. The award annually recognizes one faculty member nominated by Lancaster Campus and Pickerington Center students.
While her face briefly registered surprise, Brooks continued signing until she stepped on stage to receive the award.
As she made the announcement, PTK member Blake Allen noted Brooks’ devotion to teaching and her ability to motivate students and interact with them. Students who nominated her hailed Brooks’ appreciation for all cultures and her insistence that students experience unfamiliar cultures for themselves.
“It’s hard to learn a new language, but she’s very patient. It’s because of Becky that we’re going on,” noted a student nomination.
In her classes, Brooks requires students to immerse themselves in a disabled culture by attending two events for the hearing impaired. She also has inspired some of her ASL students to pursue careers as interpreters.
“I want them to think about what they believe and to realize the biases and stereotypes and to begin deconstructing them,” Brooks said.
For additional information on the ASL Club at the Lancaster Campus, email OULASLClub@yahoo.com.