*Deaf Artist, Nancy Rourke http://www.nancyrourke.com/
*Deaf Artist, Nancy Rourke http://www.nancyrourke.com/


The United Methodist Committee on Deaf & Hard of Hearing Ministries (UMCDHM) publishes a newsletter.  Click HERE to view the archive of newsletters.


Authors: McKay Vernon and Katrina Miller
Deaf people are at risk for serious injustices when they enter the criminal justice system. These dangers are greatest for those who are poorly educated, read at a fourth-grade level or lower, have poor communication skills (American Sign Language and English), and lack awareness of their legal rights. Primitive personality disorder (PPD) is the term mental health professionals use to describe this set of characteristics. The risks that the segment of the deaf population with PPD faces when its members run afoul of the law are described, a case history provided, and some relevant legal and interpreting issues are discussed. <<Read More>>

The Art of Sign Language

Author: Kit Almy / Photographer: Brian Powers
August 1, 2015


Jamie Rix knows she’s doing a good job when the people she works for hardly notice she’s there. Rix is an American Sign Language interpreter. She says that although she’s obviously present when interpreting between two parties, “really it should be about their access to each other. You (should be able to) look at your deaf patient or your deaf client and feel like you’re having a one-on-one conversation, even though it is going through an interpreter.” Rix’s talents are called upon for a wide range of situations. She has worked with students in Kalamazoo Public Schools for 12 years, and, as a freelancer, she is mostly hired for official business like doctor’s appointments, court cases and financial advising. Her job has also taken her to such diverse events as poetry readings and golf tournaments and “anywhere a deaf person needs to interface with hearing people,” she says.

Understanding the importance of sign language interpretation involves a paradigm shift for many of the hearing people she encounters in her work. “A lot of people think I am an interpreter for the deaf, but I’m actually an interpreter for the hearing, too,” she says.

When she goes into a doctor’s office and says, “I’m here to interpret for Dr. Smith,” she’s often met with the response that the doctor doesn’t need an interpreter, but Rix then asks if the doctor knows sign language. “Unless you can sign, you need an interpreter just as much as your deaf patient needs it,” she says. “You need access to their information, they need access to you.” Rix, who teaches ASL at Western Michigan University’s College of Health and Human Services, says ASL is a language like any other, with its own grammar, syntax, idioms and regional dialects. It takes years for adults to gain fluency in ASL, but young children who are immersed in it acquire it naturally. Rix taught her daughter sign language, and the child didn’t speak until age 3. But when she did, she leap-frogged baby talk and “just started telling stories,” Rix says. “That’s what sign language can do. All of her language files were already built,” she says.

Learning to interpret goes beyond becoming fluent in ASL; an interpreter needs to think in both languages simultaneously. ASL does not correspond word for word with English; signs can stand for single words as well as for concepts requiring multiple English words. “There are times when the languages don’t match, and that’s when interpretation comes in,” Rix says. “What is the meaning of what you’re trying to say? Your interpreter will make the change or the link between the two languages.” The goal is “to make sure that the message — not necessarily the words — is exactly what (is) meant,” Rix says. This requires extreme precision by Rix in legal or medical settings, but other situations allow for more creativity on Rix’s part. For example, she loves interpreting poetry because “there’s some visual fun you can have that might not necessarily depend on the English words.” Poems are pictures made of words, and when Rix signs a poem, she gets to put it “into this moving language, like a dance… a three-dimensional language.

Putting the deaf and hearing on equal footing is what it’s all about for Rix. “What makes me happy doing my job is when I see people get it. I’ve interpreted for little kids in classrooms, and when they can plug in and get it the same as their hearing peers, that feels awesome,” she says. “I wish more people knew sign language because then it would give deaf people just a little more entry into our society.” Rix tells her advanced sign language students that even if interpretation does not become their career, “when you meet that one deaf person that just needs access, you know how to make that happen. You can make somebody’s life easier, you can make somebody’s stress go away, you can give them entry into your everyday life.”

Original article edited. See full article at: http://www.encorekalamazoo.com/art-sign-language#sthash.MJNQFJTN.Gj7BpKxp.dpuf

Deaf – HOH Resources

Deaf Ministry: Making New Connections
By Rev. Leo Yates, Jr.

ASL Glossary Videos

ASL glossary opens new doors to Deaf community


ASL is essentially the offspring of indigenous “new world” sign languages and French Sign Language (La Langue Signe Francaise, or LSF). LSF merged with the indigenous sign languages when it was brought to the United States in 1817 by Laurent Clerc, a Deaf Frenchman who opened the first American school for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut. One of these native sign languages which fed into the development of ASL arose in Martha’s Vineyard in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries. The Vineyard had a large genetically deaf population but no Deaf culture as such–hearing and deaf people both used the sign language as a primary means of communication among themselves.

Grammatically, ASL is far removed from English or even British Sign Language (BSL). One common misconception is that ASL is simply “silent English”–a means of representing English with the hands. Codes such as this, (e.g., Signed English) do exist, but they are rough and unwieldy hybrids of English grammar and ASL hand positions (known as “handshapes”), rather than languages in their own right. ASL has a grammatical structure suited to a visual medium; there is no direct correlation between English words and ASL signs.

The one spoken language which has the closest grammatical similarity to ASL is Navaho, because both languages use a similar pronunciation system. Rather than the standard “he”, “she”, “it”, and “they” of English, Navaho and ASL use a much wider array of pronouns that match the person or object they refer back to. These are known as “classifiers.” For example, ASL has no discrete sign for “it” but instead uses any of a series of classifier signs which vary with the category, size, and shape of the object referred to. In this way, ASL pronouns carry much more information than do English pronouns.

ASL also avoids one of the biggest scourges of English: the “pronoun problem”– the tendency of English speakers to use “he” as a generic singular pronoun representing any unknown person, male or female. However, once a person is mentioned in an ASL conversation, she is given a location in space which represents her for the remainder of the conversation (As you can see, my attempt to describe this difference butts right up against the pronoun problem!). Different ways of pointing to this location can indicate the number of people who occupy it, and their role in the conversation (subject or object, for example) but not their sex.

“Listening in on Deaf Culture” © 1995, 1996 by Carla A. Halpern
This work first appeared in Harvard University’s publication “Diversity and Distinction.


By Carla A. Halpern
From a deafness-as-defect mindset, many well-meaning hearing doctors, audiologists, and teachers work passionately to make deaf children speak; to make these children “un-deaf.” They try hearing aids, lip-reading, speech coaches, and surgical implants. In the meantime, many deaf children grow out of the crucial language acquisition phase. They become disabled by people who are anxious to make them “normal.” Their lack of language, not of hearing, becomes their most severe handicap.

While I support any method that works to give a child a richer life, I think a system which focuses on abilities rather than deficiencies is far more valuable. Deaf people have taught me that a lack of hearing need not be disabling. In fact, it need not be considered a “lack” at all. As a hearing ally, therefore, I feel I have an obligation to follow the suggestions of deaf adults and work for both the use of American Sign Language and a positive portrayal of Deaf culture in the classroom. Deaf children are entitled to know that they are heirs to an amazing culture, not a pitiful defect.

In order to follow through on that obligation, one of the best things I feel I can do is try to educate other hearing people about the realities of American Sign Language and Deaf culture. Language is one of the most critical aspects of most cultures, and one which sets deafness aside from other “defects”, such as blindness, physical disability, or illness. And no, sign language is not “universal.” Nor does it always correspond to the spoken language in the same country. For example, American Sign Language (ASL) is native to the United States and Canada. Deaf Canadians might use English, French, or both as a written language. But deaf people in Great Britain, while they may write in English, use a completely different sign language.

“Listening in on Deaf Culture” © 1995, 1996 by Carla A. Halpern
This work first appeared in Harvard University’s publication Diversity and Distinction.


By Carla A. Halpern
Ideally, this article would be written by a Deaf person. It seems only logical to me that a member of any culture is better than an outsider at understanding and explaining the complexities of that culture. So in a sense, I write this article for other outsiders—hearing people who may never have realized that there is such a thing as Deaf Culture. To keep this essay coherent, I have used “deaf” to refer to a physical characteristic and “Deaf” to refer to cultural identity.

In mainstream American society, we tend to approach deafness as a defect. Helen Keller is alleged to have said, “Blindness cuts people off from things; deafness cuts people off from people.” This seems a very accurate description of what Keller’s world must have been. We as hearing people tend to pity deaf people, or, if they “succeed” in the hearing world, admire them for overcoming a severe handicap. We tend to look at signing as an inferior substitute for “real” communication (let alone language!). We assume that all deaf people will try to lip-read and we applaud deaf people, such as Marlee Matlin, who use their voices to show us how far they have come from the grips of their disability. Finally, when we hear about devices such as the cochlear implant, we joyously hail them as hopeful signs that we can someday eradicate deafness altogether.

Given this climate, many hearing people are surprised, as I was at first, to learn of the existence of Deaf culture. Imagine — deafness not as a defect, but as a source of connection! Imagine yourself deaf, growing up with a beautiful language, visual literature, humor, and theater. Imagine taking pride in your identity without any desire to become a member of the majority culture. For many deaf people, their community is a comforting relief from the isolation and condescension of the hearing world. But the Deaf community is far more than a “support group” for people who share a physical characteristic.

Members of the Deaf community may have hearing levels that range from profoundly deaf to slightly hard-of-hearing. But no members of the Deaf community are “hearing impaired.” Inside this community, deaf people become Deaf, proudly capitalizing their culture. Hearing people suddenly find that they are handicapped: “Deaf-impaired.”

Quite a different perspective, isn’t it?

My own introduction to Deaf culture grew out of graduate studies in linguistics. I had always been curious about sign language, but had no idea that it would lead me into a completely new world–into a culture which has survived profound oppression, discrimination, and tragedy. The language and history I learned were colorful but painful at times: I learned of the turn-of-the-century Milan conference, at which all kinds of sign language were targeted for annihilation–and the resulting case histories of deaf children denied education; growing up illiterate–or without any real language at all. In addition, I learned of the relentless efforts to make deaf children “normal”, whatever the cost.

In other words, I learned of a culture which has survived through the mainstream world’s complete denial of its existence.

“Listening in on Deaf Culture” © 1995, 1996 by Carla A. Halpern
This work first appeared in Harvard University’s publication Diversity and Distinction.

Deaf Culture Terminology & Understanding

The use of the lowercase d indicates what you are, referring to the physical condition of deafness. It is the inability to hear for whatever reason with varying levels of deafness.

The use of the uppercase D indicates who you are. Deafness is an identity, a community, a culture, a mode of being. You can be deaf and not Deaf, or alternatively, considered Deaf but not deaf. A group of people with varying hearing acuity, whose primary mode of communication is a visual language and have a shared heritage and culture.

Hard-of-Hearing (HoH)
Any person with a hearing loss that is neither deaf nor hearing. HoH can apply to anyone of any age or any background.

Deafies or Hearies
A label for d/Deaf people or Hearing people that has been adopted and widely used.

Hearing Impaired
The term hearing impaired is more likely to be used by people with a less than severe hearing loss and people who have acquired deafness in adulthood rather than by those who have grown up deaf. By contrast, those who identify with the Deaf culture movement typically reject the label impaired and other labels that imply that deafness is a pathological condition, viewing it instead as a focus of pride.

Child of a Deaf Adult (CODA)
Any person who has one or more parents who are deaf.

Any person with the ability to communicate using one or more variations of sign language.

Any deaf person who has the ability to lip-read/speech-read and can often communicate through voicing.

Deaf ≠ Broken
Deaf people have the same abilities and disabilities as hearing people except the ability to hear. This doesn’t mean they are unable to function. Deaf people are able to laugh, cry, think, enjoy movies, and answer the phone just like everyone else. Just because they don’t/can’t hear, doesn’t mean they need to be fixed.

Not all deaf people voice
The ability and desire to communicate verbally differs on an individual basis. It all depends how the individual was raised and whether or not they were ever encouraged/discouraged to use their voice. It may also depend on whether they had any residual hearing that allowed them to annunciate words correctly.

Not all deaf/HoH people sign
The ability and desire to sign is also different from person to person. It all depends how the individual was raised and whether or not they were ever encouraged/discouraged to sign.

Hearing aids won’t necessarily solve everything
Don’t assume that someone with a hearing aid will automatically hear and understand every word that comes out of your mouth. Background noise and speaking too loudly can cause distortion. This can ultimately cause more problems. Additionally, not all hearing aids are created equal.

The above Glossary of Terms is available as a PDF by clicking here.

*Original Art by Deaf Artrist, Nancy Rourke: http://www.nancyrourke.com/