The first week of September marks the beginning of Deaf Awareness Month, and Saint Mary’s American Sign Language (ASL) Club is ready to celebrate while also teaching students about Deaf culture and ASL.
Junior and ASL Club president Emerson Henry has a particular interest in deaf awareness because she was diagnosed with a complete hearing loss at a young age.
“I was diagnosed with hearing loss at 18 months old, then later with profound hearing loss which means I have no hearing in either ear,” Henry said.
She said her parents had to make the difficult decision to get her cochlear implants, which involves a surgical process.
Senior Maggie Clancy is treasurer of the ASL club. Similar to Henry, Clancy is hard of hearing and wears hearing aids. For Clancy, it is a family ordeal.
“I was 12 when I was diagnosed with hearing loss,” Clancy said. “My mom has a cochlear implant, but she lost her hearing over time and that’s just how it is in my family. None of us were born deaf or are part of Deaf culture in that way.”
Clancy said the distinction between lowercase “deaf” and uppercase “Deaf” is important within the Deaf community. The National Association of the Deaf uses “deaf” when referring to the audiological condition of not hearing and “Deaf” when referring to a particular group of deaf people who use ASL.
“I was introduced to Deaf culture because my uncle is deaf,” Clancy said. “I always wanted to learn ASL to communicate with him more.”
Henry and Clancy both said people believing everyone who suffers from hearing loss uses ASL is a common stereotype.
“People tend to make that assumption, ‘Oh, you have hearing loss so you use ASL?'” Clancy said. “But that’s a big misconception that everyone uses it.”
Henry said the goal of the club is to teach ASL and bring awareness to all types of discussions within Deaf culture. She said the club is open to everyone, as they teach beginning signs such as the alphabet, numbers and introductory phrases such as “hello’” and “how are you?”
“It’s not like a class where you’re going over lots of material and doing projects, it’s just about teaching, learning, asking questions and immersing yourself into a new environment,” Henry said.
Clancy said the club offers a more informal alternative to the Saint Mary’s sign language class.
“A lot of our club meetings have been very informal get-togethers to try and get people interested in learning sign language,” Clancy said. “It’s a good opportunity for people to sit down and actually be able to practice hands-on and signs that are interesting to them, that you might not find in a curriculum.”
Henry started learning sign from the television show “Switched at Birth,” which features a deaf character. She recommended learning from sources as simple as YouTube and online resources from Gallaudet University, the only deaf university in the world.
Henry and Clancy both eagerly shared plans for Deaf Awareness Month.
The club is planning on hosting a showing of “CODA,” an Oscar-winning film about a child with hearing in a deaf family. The club will meet Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. and is open to all tri-campus students.