Learn ASL with community program

Vydalia Weatherly, Staff writer

Have you ever wanted to learn a language but not exactly sure where to start? The Eric community is currently offering American Sign Language (ASL) courses for anyone looking to try something new.

The Erie Office for the Center for Hearing & Deaf Services will begin their first eight-week sessions on Thurs- day, Oct. 27. The other two sessions will begin on Wednesday, March 1, and Wednesday, April 26, 2023.

Sharon Carpenter, director of the Erie Office for the Center for Hearing & Deaf Services, highlighted the importance of learning ASL.

“We can assume there are approximately 20,000 deaf/hh individuals living within Erie County (based on ODHH and census.gov guidelines). The biggest barrier that deaf individuals face is communication,” Carpenter said. Even the simplest, most basic knowledge of sign language means breaking down the bar- rier and providing inclusion for the deaf.

The mission of the center supports this goal as explained on their website:

They seek “to provide a diverse and affordable program of quality diagnostic, rehabilitative and supportive services to meet the unique challenges of children and adults who

are deaf or hard of hearing, or have other communication needs, and to serve as an information and referral source for these populations and the general public. Our vision is to be caring professionals serving people with excellence, dignity, and trust.”

The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) officially recognizes American Sign Language as the backbone of American deaf culture.

The NAD made a statement about ASL on their official website:

“The NAD values the acquisition, usage and preser- vation of ASL and is a recog- nized leader in promoting the acquisition, learning, teaching and interpreting of ASL…For these children to truly benefit, we encourage people to become fluent and skilled users, teachers, and interpreters of ASL. Moreover, we welcome everyone to experience learning and using ASL.”

Today about 11.5 million Americans have some sort of hearing loss. Infants and young children, hearing or deaf, can access and utilize sign language earlier than spo- ken language.

“In my opinion,” Carpenter said, “sign language should be offered as a language in schools because of its benefits. And not just for deaf individ- uals, but also as communica- tion assistance for autistic, intellectually disabled and any others who struggle with com- munication.”

The Center for Hearing & Deaf will offer classes in ASL 1 for students to learn basic conversational sign language.

“The goal is to have class- es taught by a deaf individual. Some are, some aren’t. All classes are no voice,” said Carpenter.

The office is currently looking to expand its program for the future.

“There will be different levels of ASL classes in the future, hopefully by our 2023-2024 academic year. Currently, we offer only the beginning course,” said Carpenter.

Learning a new language can be daunting for some people, but it is important to close the communication barrier we have within Erie and the U.S. as a whole.

That is why the Center for Hearing and Deaf Services tries to be as supportive as possible for individuals learning ASL and assist any way that they can.

According to Lead with Languages.org, there are approximately 250,000 to 500,000 ASL users in the U.S. and Canada which includes hearing children of deaf par- ents hearing siblings of relatives of deaf persons, hearing adults who become deaf and are learning from others in the deaf community, as well as students looking to learn ASL in classroom settings and in professional settings.

“Learning a language and using that language in front of native speakers can be very intimidating. I’ve never known a deaf person who made fun of someone attempting to communicate. And you’re not alone. But class is fun and our teachers are terrific at making you feel comfortable,” Carpenter said.

While there are many ways people can learn ASL such as books and the Rocket Languages app, this local opportunity is unlike any other. It gives anyone interested to come together to learn ASL in a community setting where persons can work together.