ASL Program is Growing

Jennifer steward asl instructor teaching in a class
Jessica Stewart teaching ASL students | Photo courtesy of HFC Marketing

American Sign Language was created in 1817 and is the main form of communication used between deaf or hard of hearing individuals. ASL focuses on its own “time, topic, comment” grammar structure, use of facial expressions and body language and does not require use of words such as “to-be verbs.”

The ASL program at Henry Ford College was established in 2015 and is expanding. HFC currently offers a Certificate of Deaf Studies for completion of the four ASL language classes, the fingerspelling and numbering class, a Deaf Culture class, and Introduction to Psychology. By next fall, it is expected that HFC will introduce an associate degree in ASL interpretation.

Jennifer Stewart, the ASL program coordinator, said that ASL is “the third most commonly used language in the United States, and no matter where you go I’m sure you are bound to meet at least one Deaf person. Deaf and Hard of Hearing people reside among us in our everyday lives, and we should be able to communicate with them.” A few common misconceptions of ASL is that some believe “that it’s not an actual language, but in reality, it has all the grammatical components that make it a language,” Stewart said. “Another one, is that it is a universal language. There are all kinds of different types of dialects that grow more diverse by country.”

As the program continues to grow, more ASL events are taking place on campus. On Sept. 29, the Wild Swan Theater Company was invited to perform their original play, “Marketplace Stories–Folktales from the Arab World.” The event, held at the Adray auditorium, brought in a crowd of more than 400 people consisting both of HFC students as well as students from the Dearborn public schools. Wild Swan is known for providing ASL interpreters who take part in the action on stage as actors. The cast, as an ensemble, created an experience that captivated and charmed the audience as a whole. “Marketplace Stories” provided an experience that left both hearing and Deaf laughing together.

On Nov. 1, guest speaker Christopher Hunter gave a presentation titled, “The Deaf Perspective.” Hunter is recognized for his work with SigningOnline, a website used by HFC’s ASL instructors to teach the language in the beginner level classes. Hunter became deaf at a young age due to a side effect of the medication used to treat his spinal meningitis, which destroyed all the nerves in his ears, including the cochlea. Never being able to recover his hearing didn’t impede his quality of life. Hunter went on to become a scholar, teacher and family man.

Sharing his accomplishments was only half of the presentation. Hunter discussed the difficulties he has faced as a Deaf individual in a hearing world. One of these problems was overcoming the challenge of communication. Hunter stated that he is “thankful for technology. If you meet a hearing person now, you used to lip read, but now you can use a phone, and they can talk, and I write.”

With the recent growth of the ASL program, an American Sign Language Club is expected to be up and running next semester. The club will offer social opportunities for both Deaf and hearing people to meet one another – something that is important and highly sought after in the Deaf community. With all the available opportunities, HFC is a great place to learn ASL and about Deaf culture.

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