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Ensuring accessibility

American Sign Language program registration now open

Student Life

By Elizabeth Furey

A virtual program that introduces students to American Sign Language (ASL) and the deaf culture and community in Newfoundland and Labrador will begin on May 18 at Memorial.

American Sign Language program participants during a class.
Photo: Submitted

The Blundon Centre (Accessibility Services) in Student Life is running the eight-week program in collaboration with the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of the Deaf (NLAD). It’s the third time the program has been offered.

“The idea for the program came after a discussion in our offices about how students in professions that interact with the public, like nursing or social work, would benefit from this type of training,” said Claire LeDrew, a career advisor in Student Life.

“Giving them an introduction to ASL and educating them about deaf culture and the deaf community is beneficial not only to them, but to the public they’ll be encountering in their professional lives.”

Increase accessibility and inclusion

The goal of the program is two-fold.

One is to increase accessibility and inclusion within both the Memorial campus and off-campus community.

The second is to help prepare students for when they enter the workforce and may encounter people who have hearing and accessibility impairments.

“We are very pleased to partner with NLAD on this exciting opportunity,” said Kathy Skinner, a student learning accessibility advisor with the Blundon Centre.

“Given that this is the third time we are offering the program, it speaks to how successful it has been. We hope to have many more collaborations with community organizations that serve persons with disabilities.”

“I gained key insight into deaf culture and how each individual cultivates their own experience with deafness.” — Hilary Hennessey

Hilary Hennessey, a third-year bachelor of social work student, participated in the program during the fall 2020 semester.

“As an aspiring social worker, I am well aware that an essential part of working in my field is building a trusting relationship with clients,” said Ms. Hennessey.

“However, I came to realize that without the knowledge of basic ASL, I am unable to communicate or create that trusting and supportive bond with a large number of people within our society.”

Ms. Hennessey says that her participation in the workshop will further benefit her social work education and future career, as she will be able to offer support to all individuals in society, including those who have profound hearing loss.

Not a universal language

Ms. Hennessey also says the things she learned in the workshop have stuck with her ever since.

“On top of learning how to communicate through ASL, I also gained key insight into deaf culture and how each individual cultivates their own experience with deafness.”

“Using body gestures and facial expressions when communicating with someone through ASL is extremely important.” — Kathy Skinner

One of those insights is that sign language is not universal. Each country, and even each province and city, can have its own way of communicating through sign language.

“It is also interesting to note that using body gestures and facial expressions when communicating with someone through ASL is extremely important,” said Ms. Skinner.

“It will help them better understand what you are trying to say.”

Accessibility for all

When the program was first announced last fall, the response and interest from not just students, but alumni, faculty and staff, was overwhelming, says Ms. Skinner.

Due to the large amount of interest, it was necessary to put a cap on the number of students able to participate in the live sessions in the fall and winter semesters.

“However, the workshop series were recorded and posted on the Blundon Centre website for all students, alumni, faculty and staff to access, so those who couldn’t participate live could access them.”

Ms. Hennessey says that learning about people’s life experiences with profound hearing loss and gaining knowledge of how to make Memorial’s university community and the local community a more inclusive place was memorable.

“You will develop a deep appreciation for the culture and understand the importance of ensuring accessibility in all areas of society.”

If you’re interested in ASL and increasing your knowledge of the Deaf community/culture here in Newfoundland and Labrador, please contact the Blundon Centre by Thursday, May 13, at 12 p.m. (NDT).

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