Photo by Kyle West

By Karen Li

Ten-year-old Karen had an ambition: to learn American Sign Language.

The idea of communicating with my face and hands fascinated me. I borrowed a book from the library and watched videos online, but eventually, I abandoned my goal.

On Oct. 18, 2018, I attended the ASL workshop held by the McMaster Hearing Society. David Wiesblatt, a deaf instructor at McMaster University, and his interpreter gave an instructive presentation on audism with some basic ASL vocabularies and phrases.

The two voices soon merged together; one silent, one bright and projecting. Eight years after my first attempt to learn ASL, I was once again mesmerized by the language. Together, through movements of face and fingers, they told a story that words could not quite replace.

For me, ASL was just a hobby, something that I could take or drop at my leisure. Until I attended the workshop, I was not aware that the term audism referred to the oppression and discrimination of Deaf people and that this definition was only included in some dictionaries. I was not aware of the terminological differences between deaf and Deaf. I was not even aware that there were deaf students studying at this university.  

[spacer height=”20px”]At the workshop, Tim Nolan, director of McMaster’s Student Accessibility Services, emphasized his strive to “bridge the gap” between Deaf and non-Deaf communities. Learning ASL not only provides a potential means of communication but also transcends culture and raises awareness of the issue of audism. It is the first step to erasing the stigma that exists in all levels of government and society.

ASL can also improve cognitive functioning. When we use a language, we do not simply “turn off” other languages. Knowing multiple languages therefore strengthens the control mechanisms in our brain that regulate and maintain the balance between two or more languages. As a three-dimensional system, ASL can also improve visualization skills and spatial recognition.

Many groups at McMaster offer free ASL lessons and workshops. The McMaster Hearing Society holds multiple workshops throughout the year. The McMaster Sign Language Club meets once a week to learn basic signs. Online classes are also excellent and convenient resources but may lack the physical interaction and motivational factor that aid the learning process.

If possible, however, one should always take classes taught by deaf instructors to learn from the native-speakers and to support deaf workers. The Canadian Hearing Society offers ASL lessons in locations throughout Canada, including Hamilton. One can even take LINGUIST 2LS3 at McMaster, which is an introduction to ASL.

Beyond learning ASL, there are so many other ways to support the deaf community on campus. For example, students can enroll in the notetaker program with SAS or ensure that front row seats in lecture halls are vacant for those who need it.

With the multitude of opportunities available, students really have no excuse. We all have a responsibility to help make our school as accessible as possible and this can start with supporting our deaf students on campus.

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