Campus professor gives voice to the deaf

The school is digging deeper into the world of American Sign Language through new assistant professor of the modern foreign language department Parker Kennedy.

Kennedy was born without the ability to hear and has a no-voice policy in his classes.

He hopes to use his firsthand knowledge of ASL as a way to help guide his students.

“The challenge is to get the students accustomed to the new language without much interaction with its culture. We come up with creative ideas using technology to increase the students’ learning experience. My goal is for them to be able to interact with deaf people in a natural environment,” he said.

Assistant Professor Parker Kennedy helps junior computer science major Katie Schladenhaffen with an ASL lesson. Prior to working at UMHB, Kennedy taught education courses at Gallaudet University and ASL courses at Northeastern University. Photo by April Littleton/The Bells.

Freelance sign language interpreter Camille Beckham helps interpret for Kennedy during special events. She points out the most common assumption about ASL.

“It’s a completely different language. The grammar is different and the structure is different. American Sign Language is a three-dimensional language. Spoken languages, like English or French are linear languages, meaning you can only be making one sound at a time. Basically you can only be saying one word at a time. In ASL, you are using the space around you,” she said.

Beckham has been signing for 29 years and has been certified as an interpreter for 23. Over the course of her career, she has learned that every gesture is significant.

“One hand can be doing one thing, and the other hand could be doing something else. The speed that you’re signing has meaning. The tilt of your shoulders has meaning. What your eyebrows are doing has meaning. Your eye gaze has meaning. Which direction your eyes are looking and what your mouth is doing have meaning,” she said.

ASL is unlike any other form of speech and is incomparable to other languages.

“There are so many things going on at once that have meaning. There’s no way you can just map it directly onto English word for word,” Beckham said.

The university’s ASL program has been around for approximately seven to eight years.

Along with the help of teacher’s aides, Kennedy uses special methods to instruct his class.

He said, “My interaction with the students depends on their signing aptitude. I mainly use visual aids, such as dry erase boards and PowerPoint to do my instruction. In the class, there’s a no-voice policy.”

Senior Christian ministry major Shawn Cain works with Kennedy and has been signing for three years. He knows students can gain a lot more from the ASL program than just the ability to sign.

“They can learn about the world, the culture, the life behind ASL and the deaf community. They can learn about connecting with their people and how if you’re willing to put forth the effort, there’s really no language barrier that cannot be overcome,” he said.

Senior education major Justin Moreno thinks that getting involved with ASL is a humbling approach to appreciate unfamiliar ways of living.

“A lot of it is about respect. Unfortunately, kids these days are missing that aspect in their life. So it’s nice to view the world from a different perspective. You learn to respect the different lifestyles that are out there and learn that it’s not a disability,” he said.

Kennedy is looking forward to educating students and other professors about ASL.

He said, “I want to raise awareness for the deaf community. We’re still here. We exist, and we have a good program at UMHB.”

Author: April Littleton

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