American Sign Language is Bringing the LIFE Community Together
Category – Life Blog
For the November 2021 LIFE blog, the topic is focused on how the use of American Sign Language (ASL) is part of the LIFE Hyannis community. Two LIFE employees, Alison Reid and Jennifer Vigliotti, and Ashley M., a Deaf LIFE resident who relies on American Sign Language as a means of interacting, are learning and engaging with each other. ASL is used by a number of Deaf Americans, as well as others in this country who either have a friend, loved one, or colleague who relies on this form of communication.
Alison Reid works as an Administrative Assistant at the front desk in the Hyannis LIFE campus. She says she first began to learn ASL as a child. Her mother is deaf in one ear and it had been a challenge for her to fully understand what was being said. Alison also had a friend who was deaf and one day, when she saw this friend communicate with her hands, Alison became interested and wanted to learn.
She originally learned the alphabet in ASL as a child and it was only very recently that she began to broaden her skills. Alison decided to take classes off Cape Cod but the long drive, after a full day of work, became stressful; so she asked faculty in Hyannis if they could do ASL classes. Janelle, another Hyannis LIFE employee, began to teach the classes a few years ago.
These classes were originally held in person until the pandemic struck, then they were done over Zoom. Unfortunately, with the poor graphics quality on computers, the screen would freeze often. This made it difficult for Hyannis residents to view and learn the signs that were being taught. Eventually, they stopped showing up and classes were dropped altogether.
Not only were these classes engaging to her, but they were also engaging to the residents.
Alison gives several examples of the words taught to residents in American Sign Language: “Hi,” “Hello,” “How are you?,” “Schedule,” “Good afternoon,” and “Good night.”
Alison says one of her favorite lessons was learning about how ASL was dependent on body language, facial expression, and how different signs would coordinate with different parts of the body. For example, if you had a painful knee, you’d sign hurt/pain near your knee; however, if you had a headache, you’d sign hurt/pain near your forehead instead.
Jennifer Vigliotti is a case manager employed by LIFE in Hyannis. She says she first began to learn ASL when she was a child. Her mother was deaf and her parents decided to teach her when she had been growing up in New York. Today, one of her clients is Hyannis resident Ashley M., who is Deaf herself.
“It makes me feel good. I like that someone cares enough about me to learn how to communicate better.” Ashley says of Alison and Jenn learning ASL.
“The biggest challenge is a lot of people don’t know sign language, so they have to write things down. I don’t always understand what they’re trying to say.” Jenn says, translating for Ashley. “But people are interested in learning ASL when they meet me.” Ashley adds.
Ashley says she enjoyed teaching her peers the names of different animals in ASL over Zoom.
Jenn and Ashley say it’s important to be patient when learning a new language.
“We come up with different ways to communicate and we adapt each time we interact.” Alison said when trying to communicate via ASL with Ashley. Sometimes, the words Ashley signs to her won’t immediately register with Alison; but she manages her patience nonetheless.
People around the world have unique signed language that they use within families, a very close-knit group of friends, their peers and co-workers, and so on. Ashley has come up with different ways of signing words that are not traditionally ASL with Jenn and Alison.
An example of a unique sign Jenn gives is one that she was taught by her parents growing up in New York. The word “onion” in ASL is done with the pointer finger bent and the joint placed at the temple, near the eye, twisting back and forth in a rotating motion — as to indicate being teary eyed when chopping an onion. However, Jenn was taught it was done with the same finger, extended and pointed at the nose moving in a twisting motion instead.
“I think it’s so much fun to be able to have an actual conversation with someone who is Deaf or Hard of Hearing. Before I came to Hyannis, I had Deaf clients at my previous job and it was so difficult because nobody was able to sign. We had to communicate with paper and it was crazy.
“Being able to do it here has been great, and I’m fortunate because a lot of employers refuse to do it. Regardless of what you do for a living, you’ve gotta learn. You just never know who you’ll be interacting with.” Alison adds that learning ASL is extremely beneficial in certain situations for those who are isolated and left out of social groups. “They have no control over being Deaf.”
When it comes to learning ASL, Alison enthusiastically said just do it!
About the author:
Becki G. was born and raised in Framingham, MA where she attended a school for the Deaf all throughout childhood. She first moved to LIFE at Mashpee in 2010 and enjoys the support she gets from the staff on campus. She likes reading on her Kindle, taking pictures of nature, listening to music, streaming TV shows, and writing on her blog.
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