Seeing the signs with ASL

Kara Willingham

She pulled up, got out of her car and waved, sat down and started signing. Kristen Corey, American Sign Language instructor is deaf and has been since she was 22 months old.

A graduate of University California Santa Barbara, Corey has been teaching ASL at Saddleback since Fall 2004. She teaches ASL 1, has taught 2 and 3 and will be teaching 3 this summer.Corey went to a hearing high school where she did not have an interpreter.

“I look back and I’m like, wow how did I even do that?” Corey said. “I feel comfortable because of who I am but if I woke up tomorrow hearing I’d be confused and out of place,” Corey said. “I grew up deaf.”

Corey says that ASL is its own language because it is not similar to English in any form.

This is a common misconception and often gets confused with SEE (Signing Exact English).

One difference between ASL and the English language is the rules for communication. One who is signing must have eye contact, facial and bodily expressions, and touch.

“The ‘listener’ must always look at the ‘speaker’, from the Deaf perspective, broken eye contact or lack of eye contact shows indifference,” Corey said. “Deaf people have an exceptional ability to use and read nonverbal communication; they pick up on very subtle movements. Touching another person is used to greet, say goodbye, get attention and express emotion.”

When it comes to communication, those who are deaf and hard of hearing use their hands instead of their voices to communicate.

Corey said that “hearing impaired” is politically-incorrect within the deaf culture it is seen as offensive and it suggests that deaf people are “inferior” or “broken” because they can not hear. The acceptable phrase to refer to all people with a hearing loss is “deaf and hard of hearing” — which is why you see the Emergency check lists in the HS building corrected.

There are schools that are built just to accommodate the needs of students that may be deaf or hard of hearing.

Department chair and ASL instructor Rita Tamer attended one of the most well known deaf colleges in America, Gallaudet.

Gallaudet University is the largest deaf college in America and has been educating deaf students since 1856.

The college was founded when Amos Kendall, a wealthy landowner and former postmaster general, donated two-acres of land in Washington D.C. to starting a school for deaf and blind children.

The college was originally named the Columbia Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb and Blind until it evolved and flourished into the now Gallaudet.

Congress authorized the college to confer degrees in 1864 and President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill into law.

The first commencement ceremony took place in June of 1869, where three young men received their diplomas for completing the entire four-year program. President Ulysses S. Grant signed the student’s diplomas, and since then, the current U.S. president signs every graduate’s diploma.

A well-known man in the deaf community and former president of the college, I. King Jordan said, “Deaf can do anything but hear.”

Tamer’s experience at the college gave her a great sense of the deaf community.

“It is not only a university, but a home and a family for many students,” said Tamer. “The faculty and students both have a sense of unity and pride, it was a great experience to have been there for the ‘Deaf President Now’ movement, 10 years later experience.”

Tamer speaks about the Deaf President Now movement, which took place in March of 1988.During this time the deaf students and faculty fought for a deaf president for the college since there had not been one since the college opened, 128 years earlier.

“The deaf community is a collectivist culture,” said Corey. “Deaf people actively seek ways to connect with other deaf people.”The deaf community is a tight-knit group and because of this deaf events are popular and large amounts of people attend them.

One of the most popular is Deaf Awareness day at Disneyland. On March 9 of this year, deaf people from all over the United States will go to the park for a discounted price. Interpreters for shows and rides will be there so that the deaf can enjoy the park.

“It’s just like any other day except for that face that Disneyland has hired interpreters for certain rides and shows,” said Tamer. “It is a great experience to be a part of this day.”

The deaf culture is different from other cultures in a variety of ways. Americans, especially in California are constantly on the go and are used to hearing simple sounds every day.

“The deaf like information sharing,” Corey said. “Deaf people want to know more.”

In the classroom Corey tries to give students a taste of what being deaf is like with the “Deaf for a day” project. When participating in the project students must wear earplugs all day and sign to anyone they come in contact with.

In ASL 1 classes such as Tamer’s, students are required to do deaf events in which they go out and sign to one another in public. Students often find that the general public stares at them because they look different.

Many deaf homes have adaptations to help them with their daily routines.

The adaptations in Corey’s home include a fire alarm with a light, an alarm clock with vibration, but she does not have a TTY, which is a teletypewriter.

These devices are also known as TDD or telecommunications devices for the deaf.

Corey gets a laugh out of hearing people asking her if she can drive.

“Driving is fine, I can’t hear it when people honk at me but whatever,” she said. “When people ask me ‘how do you drive?’ I always ask them ‘How do you drive and talk on your cell phone?'”

Although the deaf community has had to fight discrimination the culture has grown. There are approximately 300 students enrolled in the program at Saddleback College.

“American Sign Language is a beautiful language that has so many expressions,” Tamer said. “[Beginning ASL Students must] first, practice, practice, practice. Second, it is a foreign language and people lose sight of that. It involves a lot of memorizing.”

“I strongly believe more education and awareness is needed,” Corey said. “Many businesses do not understand how to handle relay calls in a courteous matter.

Some people still carry misconceptions of the Deaf. Unfortunately it does, in a way, effect some deaf people: they may ‘give up’ the job search, or discontinue education because some may feel that employers would not hire them due to use of telephone, radios, etc at many occupation sites.”