Way back in Junior High or High School, our Mom was part of a puppet troupe called Kids on the Block. The troupe’s speciality was puppets and shows focusing on kids with disabilities. There was one in a wheelchair with cerebral palsy, another blind with a cane, and so forth. It was meant to teach young kids about living with disabilities and removing some of the stigma surrounding people’s disabilities.
One of these puppets was named Mandy. Mandy was deaf and required two operators – one to move her head and body and another to act as her hands. Mom was the hands. This meant she had to know American Sign Language (ASL) and in an effort to help her practice, my brothers and I learned ASL as well. It was a lot of fun and I did have a few occasions over the years where I actually got to use it. For the most part, though, my brother and I used it to plan things behind our teachers backs.
ASL is one of those skills that you have to use or lose and over the past 20+ years, my knowledge has faded to a few basics. It’s one of those things that would come up in casual conversation and I’d always say, “I’d love to learn it again, just for fun.”
Fast forward to Spring 2012 and Arthaus (Decorah’s home to performing and visual arts) offered a 12-week Introduction to ASL class. The price was right and the schedule fit so I signed up.
Some of it’s coming back pretty quick – the alphabet, basic signs, etc. We’re learning about 20 words per week, most of which are grouped together. For instance, last week we learned ‘family’ such as mother, father, brother, sister, and so forth which helps. Some words make a lot of sense or feed off one another (the sign for ‘girl’ is also used in the sign for ‘sister)’. Our instructor, who teaches Deaf students in the local school district is also giving us insights into Deaf culture (hint – don’t wear stripped clothes when signing; it makes it really hard to see your hands).
Probably the toughest part is getting a grasp on the grammar. Deaf people don’t use it the same way we do. Words like Is or To are useless for the most part. So instead of signing ‘What is your name?’, a deaf person might sign is ‘You Name?’ (or ‘Name You?’). And while you might think you’ve got things down pat, actually trying to ‘read’ someone else signing takes some serious practice.
Practicing in public (as I do on my walks to work) does earn you a few odd looks. People either think you’re on drugs or having a seizure. I still say I look more sane than someone talking on a Bluetooth headset and I’m not nearly as annoying.
In any case, I’m enjoying it immensely and hope to keep it up. Who knows where it’ll go? Maybe I can become an interpreter for those rich and famous sci-fi/fantasy authors I aspire to join.