Those with hearing impairments have made accommodations, like using closed captioned televisions and video phones, to help them do things independently.
The surrounding world, however, is less prepared to serve those with hearing difficulties.
A local woman has taken matters into her own hands and teaches American Sign Language (ASL) to anyone who wants to learn.
Jen Warsing, with the help of her hearing dog, Wellie, has been teaching sign language classes in Huntingdon County for almost a year, and has already taught four different classes.
One class meets for weekly two-hour sessions for eight weeks.
“At the end of the eight weeks, if those attending would like to continue learning, I extend the class for another eight weeks,” she explained.
Her class has provided knowledge to business owners and consumers, alike.
“I have been very touched by the amount of interest that has been shown within the community,” she said.
“I have received a lot of positive feedback and ‘thanks’ for offering a basic ASL course to the public.”
Warsing wanted to teach this class because when people in public places know at least basic ASL, communication is much easier for her and others who may otherwise depend on reading lips.
“Considering that I am Deaf myself, I wanted to be able to connect more with my friends, family and community,” Warsing said.
She shared that reading lips is not always reliable and that sometimes she only understands about 50% of what someone is saying to her, and has to “fill in the blanks” to understand the rest.
“It’s tough reading lips 99% of the time, and so many words look incredibly similar on the lips.
“For example, ‘I love you’ and ‘telephone’ are identical. ‘Fifteen dollars’ and ‘fifty dollars’ are identical, as well,” she noted.
“I wanted to be able to go out and enjoy myself publicly with my family and friends. Even if they only know the basics of ASL it makes communication much easier and less stressful.”
She also shared that owners of Top’s Diner and ReKlaimed Vines have taken her class, which will allow them to provide more all-inclusive services.
“I think it is very important that anyone, and everyone, at least knows some basic ASL, especially if you work with people, because you never know when you may come across a person who is Deaf and uses ASL for communication,” Warsing explained.
“In my opinion it is especially important for those in the medical and education professions to learn, as well as hospitality venues such as bars, restaurants and hotels,” she added.
She explained that, in the case of ReKlaimed Vines, the co-owner’s knowledge of ASL has even helped business.
“She has frequent patrons who are Deaf. Due to her knowing basic ASL she is able to communicate with them.
“Her customers were so happy she knew sign language that they have returned frequently and told their other Deaf friends about the winery.
“It’s a win-win situation for everyone, really,” Warsing shared.
Warsing explained that a typical class teaches basics such as numbers, alphabet, family signs, action signs and emergency signs.
She works to not only teach ASL, but to share her experiences and help people understand what it is like to be Deaf.
“(Wellie) and I teach it together. We talk about other things than just ASL.
“She is the ‘mascot’ for demonstrating and educating how a Hearing Dog assists me and others who are Deaf,” Warsing explained.
“I play a CD that demonstrates what the different severity of hearing losses sound like. It’s very realistic and shows what a mild, moderate, severe and profound hearing loss is like. It also adds in background noise and tinnitus to show how difficult it is to hear.
“I also show the class my Sorenson Video Phone, so they can learn how I talk on the telephone. I discuss closed captioning and other assistive devices that I use in my daily life,” she explained.
People may be intimidated by the thought of learning a new language, but Warsing is confident that anyone can do it if they practice.
“Learning ASL is much like learning any new language, the only difference that might make it a bit more challenging is that you are not speaking vocally. You are using your hands,” she noted.
Warsing continued, “in order to get your message across it involves hand shapes, body language and facial expression, whereas learning Spanish, French, Latin etc. involves vocalization, accents on specific parts of the word, etc.
“ASL is a non-verbal, expressive language. A lot of the signs in ASL are common sense; it merely requires dedicated practice, that’s all,” she added.
Warsing feels it is important for everyone to at least understand basic sign language, and has been working hard to teach as many people as she can.
“To anyone who has been interested in learning ASL, but is unsure if they can do it, I assure you—you can.
“As a person who is Deaf, I appreciate the fact that people are willing to learn the ASL language. It makes communication so much easier, more enjoyable and more comfortable for me and others who have hearing loss.
A more widespread knowledge of ASL would help people with hearing impairments go public places more confidently and independently.
“I don’t have to focus all of my energy on reading lips 100% of the time…with ASL I miss nothing, nothing at all, and that is a fantastic feeling,” she shared.
Warsing asks anyone interested in taking an ASL class with her to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Beginner ASL Class’ in the subject line, and include their name and contact info.
She explained the she currently has a small waiting list of people interested in taking her next class, “but will gladly work with anyone who is interested in learning.”
She would like to hold another class beginning in September, but is in the process of working out the details.
“To be able to share my life experience as a person living with hearing loss, and to teach about Deaf Culture and ASL, is an incredible feeling.
“I feel pride in sharing who I am, a Deaf individual. I feel pride in seeing others learn the language of ASL and flourish, but most of all I feel joy.
“Teaching this beautiful language is simply a joy and one that I will continue to do for as long as there is interest,” Warsing said.