This semester, I am taking American Sign Language at the local community college. This has definitely not been the blow off course you would think it would be considering where I am taking it. I have already learned so much in the past 3 months. In order to complete the course, each student is required to go into the Deaf community five different times for at least 1.5 hours each time. I have been to two different Deaf churches and then a community/living center for Deaf senior citizens. I went to the community center twice, because there, you actually sit and have conversations with the residents. It is very interactive. They are so kind and are sure to sign slow enough so I can understand, and they ask over and over again if I get what they are saying. Most of the time it takes two or three tries, but I am definitely learning! I wish that my other foreign language courses had required something like this, because there is nothing like entering into a community where you are forced to communicate using the language you are learning. And there is nothing like signing something wrong and having someone laugh at your efforts.
We are also required to spend at least 20 hours in lab. This lab is run by Deaf instructors, and there is a strict no voice policy. I definitely learn more in lab than I do in class, and it is supposed to be that way.
Now, you might be wondering to yourself, "Self, why is she taking ASL?" Well, that is a great question! I want to be a clinical psychologist for children, especially those who have experienced trauma or neglect. Many Deaf children face a form of trauma because they are unable to communicate and participate fully in the world around them. Many hearing parents refuse to learn sign language and are not able to talk to their Deaf children. If a Deaf child goes to a public school, they may have some friends and teachers who can talk to them, but for the most part, they go through the day without communicating with many people. Just imagine having to go through every single day without being able communicate efficiently with those around you. And not only can you not communicate, but so many pieces of life slip through without notice because you can't hear.
Because of this, many Deaf children suffer from depression and anger issues. They are trapped inside their heads with hardly anyone who is able to help. They need counselors and psychologists just like regular children do. But most of the time, they have to bring an interpreter with them. It's hard enough to tell your struggles, worries, and problems to a health care professional without a stranger standing in the room listening. But many Deaf clients are required to tell their problems to an interpreter who is hired for the job. Even the highest assurance of confidentiality does not make this easy or comfortable. I want to be able to eliminate the middle man. Deaf children can feel safer talking directly to me. Deaf parents with hearing children can feel more comfortable because I can talk to them directly instead of using an interpreter or their children to communicate.
Ultimately, I hope that learning ASL expands the pool of clients I am able to help. So many psychologists are able to help hearing children. I want to be able help both the hearing and the Deaf.