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GSU Students Expand Communication Disorder Awareness in Deaf Culture Renaissance

Georgia Southern University

A group of students at Georgia Southern University is taking courses to grow the number of interpreters in their communities and their fields. GSU says that each student comes to class with their own motivations to learn American Sign Language (ASL).

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“Most of the deaf people, myself included, feel kind of depressed,” signed Angellia Burnett, a volunteer assistant in Georgia Southern University’s American Sign Language (ASL) course. “We miss a lot of things in life, because it has always been a struggle with communication.”

Burnett grew up deaf, and is the only person in her family who is deaf. Members of her family speak ASL, but she said many in the Deaf community continue to be left out of family conversations because not everyone will sign all of the time.

This leaves Deaf family members feeling isolated even within their own homes.

“Not everyone accepts my deafness,” Burnett signed. “They need to know Deaf culture. They need to accept that.”

One of the most effective ways of accepting someone is by understanding the challenges they face.

Over the past few years, the world has experienced a Deaf culture renaissance, where the inclusion of people who are deaf becomes more mainstream.

Recently, the film “CODA,” which stands for “children of deaf adults,” won the 2022 Academy Award for Best Picture. This brought Deaf culture further into the spotlight, opening many eyes into the lives of those with hearing impairments.

“What that means is it embraces the entire community,” said Dana Taylor, Ph.D., Georgia Southern adjunct professor and sign language interpreter. “It’s not isolating one group as being different. Individuals get to see the struggles and challenges and the triumphs that people experience.”

At Georgia Southern, a group of students is taking courses to grow the number of interpreters in their communities and their fields.

Each student comes to class with their own motivations to learn ASL. Some are learning sign language because they have people in their lives with hearing impairments or other communication disorders where sign can be advantageous. Others are there to develop their Sign skills as a professional tool.

“If I had a client who spoke ASL, I’d be able to communicate with them better or make them feel more comfortable,” said Ricki Botsford, speech pathology student. “I’ve learned a lot about how broad communication can be, because there are so many ways to communicate outside of the verbal option.”

When the students were asked if they had tried learning other languages like Spanish or French, every hand was raised. When asked if they stuck to learning them, all but a few went down.

So what makes Sign different?

“It’s a lot easier to integrate into every day,” said Adia Greer who’s studying to be an athletic trainer for Deaf athletes. “I can speak it verbally, but I can also sign it. I’ve picked up signing to my cat a lot. She doesn’t understand it, but it allows me to practice.”

While the students practice Sign with their pets and favorite TV shows, Burnett continues to come to class to help show her students the world they share, but not the one they see.

Georgia Southern has a network of Student Accessibility Resource Centers on the Statesboro and Savannah campuses providing interpreters for students who want to attend classes and interact with their environment, as well as many other resources for students who are hard of hearing.

“The whole world needs to learn Sign,” Burnett signed. “I want to see people motivated to learn. I see a lot of Hearing people who are motivated to learn, and a lot of Deaf people that want to help make them successful. I’m really proud that I can help in that.”


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