Signs Show Need for ASL Club

Signs Show Need for ASL Club

A unnamed group of UCO ASL Club meeting attendees stand in front of an “ASL ROCKS!” sign made for Deaf Awareness Day 2017. (Provided/ UCO ASL Club Facebook)

The American Sign Language (ASL) Club at the University of Central Oklahoma is a new organization this semester that is trying to fill the void of ASL learning opportunities on campus. 

“[ASL Club] is an organization to spread awareness and appreciation of Deaf culture,” said Erin Viviani, ASL Club president.  “We create meetings and events to learn about communication and misconceptions [about Deaf culture].”

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, American Sign Language is a language for the deaf in which meaning is conveyed by a system of articulated hand gestures and their placement relative to the upper body.

One thing that ASL Club discusses at events is the difference between deaf and Deaf.  According to the club’s adviser Nicole Mercer, “Big D” Deaf refers to people who associate themselves with Deaf culture, which is more than just having a medical diagnosis of profound hearing loss.  However, “Small d” deaf is the medical term, which means your hearing loss is severe and you try to associate more with hearing people than the deaf community.

The club offers bi-monthly meetings and larger events for students to learn more about ASL and Deaf culture.  One meeting a month is dedicated to information about Deaf culture, and has included the history of deaf rights, technology that deaf people use and the struggles of the deaf community. The other meeting is an interactive signing night, led by the club officers.

“Signing nights are where [students] learn sign language,” Mercer said.  “They teach basic phrases, conversational pieces and play games to practice.”

In order to reach more students interested in Deaf culture, they have held larger Student Transformative Learning Record (STLR) tagged events like Deaf Awareness Day, a movie night showing “Through Deaf Eyes” and participated in Disability Awareness Days.

During Deaf Awareness Day, students could learn information about the Deaf community and try reading lips with headphones on.  Viviani said reading lips is one of the ways a deaf person can communicate, along with sign language and sometimes speaking.

“If a deaf person speaks, that doesn’t mean they can hear you,” Viviani said.

There have also been Silent Eat-Outs, where a group goes to a restaurant or cafe and helps each other sign and build on what they know.  Viviani said it helps them to learn actual conversation beyond basic phrases.  The next Silent Eat-Out is Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. at Othello’s in downtown Edmond.

Mercer said there has been a strong interest on campus so far.  Besides ASL Club, direct translation sign language classes for Speech-Language Pathology majors and a special education program ASL seminar, there aren’t many other opportunities for students to learn sign language or about Deaf culture.

According to Viviani, many of the 180 members have some kind of connection to the Deaf community.  However, students do not have to have a connection to join.

Viviani, who has known some sign language for most of her life, said it is helpful to know at least a little bit of sign language.  It can help in communication with relatives, people at work or on campus.

The club started in the Fall 2017 semester, but plans and paperwork began in the summer.  Viviani said she wanted to start the club after being part of one at Edmond Memorial High School and hearing that people had asked Disability Support Services why there wasn’t an ASL club on campus.

They are planning more events and collaborations for the spring semester and students can join for $5.  The last Signing Night of the semester is Nov. 7 from 5-7 p.m. in the Nigh University Center Room 202.

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