Sep. 16, 2019 8:00 am

Want to upskill? Consider learning American Sign Language

Columnist Krys Sipple talks to folks at the Deaf-Hearing Communication Centre about how, for certain occupations, the ability to communicate in ASL is vital.

DHCC executive director Neil McDevitt (left) chats with community members.

(Courtesy photo)

American Sign Language (ASL) is one of the most popular languages to learn in the United States.

Learning ASL takes time, patience, practice and — according to Tanya Sturgis, the education coordinator at Deaf-Hearing Communication Centre, Inc. (DHCC) in Swarthmore — the right teacher.

“It’s very important to learn the language from a native user of ASL,” Sturgis said. “Often hearing people can be intimidated by the idea of learning from a Deaf instructor and worry that they won’t be able to understand them, To counter this, we have interpreters present during the first night of each class. That way our students can learn about Deaf Culture and ask questions without fear.”

After the first night, however, DHCC’s classes are taught in total language immersion.

DHCC’s ASL classes are full-immersion language learning. (Courtesy photo)

The organization currently offers courses at six sites throughout Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties. The locations are really varied, ranging from DHCC’s offices in Swarthmore to the Microsoft store in King of Prussia Mall to the fire department of Montgomery Township. The non-credit, introductory courses run weekly for 10 two-hour sessions and are open to any community member over the age of 18.

DHCC also offers private ASL tutoring to people as needed, a service which Sturgis says is primarily requested by people with children or other family members who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing.

DHCC advocates for Deaf individuals to help them gain communication access to services, businesses, educational institutions and their own places of employment. Founded in 1972 for the purposes of promoting communication access and cultural awareness, the organization’s communications services include sign language interpreting and CART (real-time captioning). In addition to the ASL classes — which are offered three times per year —DHCC’s other adult education services include sensitivity training and workshops to help the community gain a better understanding of Deaf Culture and communication.

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“We tailor our sensitivity training to the specific workplace,” Sturgis said. “For example, it is vital that people who work in industries such as hospitals, ambulance or fire companies, or police departments know how to communicate with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing people they encounter. We teach them how to request and use sign language interpreters, and some basic communication tips. The most important point to remember is to ask the Deaf or hard of hearing person his or her preferences and tips he or she finds helpful.”

DHCC’s website offers the following 10 tips to remember when communicating with a Deaf person:

  1. Do not yell or talk loudly and do not mumble
  2. Face the person and make eye contact when speaking.
  3. If you use written communication, make sure you are understood.
  4. Do not over emphasize your facial expressions or lip movements as this can reduce communication
  5. If the person prefers to use speech-reading, speak normally and avoid speaking too slow or too fast.
  6. Pictures and other visual aids may be helpful.
  7. Avoid excess background noise.
  8. Be patient and relaxed.
  9. Every individual has their preference. Be sure to ask the Deaf or Hard of Hearing person for ways to improve communication.
  10. Take advantage of technology by typing back and forth on a computer screen, using email, instant messenger or text messaging.

“Our teachers love what they do, and love interacting with their students,” Sturgis said. “Many students will go on to take our more intensive conversational ASL classes, and will often take that class again and again — which builds a wonderful rapport between the Deaf and hearing community members in our area.”


The fall session for the organization’s ASL classes starts in late September, and registration is due by Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019. You can browse locations and register online at http://www.dhcc.org/aslclasses, or call 484-470-6409.


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