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The language of community

Created date

July 27th, 2010

[Last summer, Eve and LeRoy Christian decided to move from Tysons Corner, Va., and call Ashby Ponds home after they heard about it from a friend. We knew we would be the only deaf residents here, but that was not a big issue in our decision, says Mrs. Christian. We were impressed by all the amenities. Once we moved in, we immediately found the staff and residents to be very friendly, continues her husband. The first evening, we went to the dining room and one of the ladies motioned for us to join her group when she heard us tell the host we were deaf. Fortunately, she was quite easy to lip-read, so she kept us up with the conversation at the table. However, at other times, we found it difficult to follow conversations within a group because some people are easier to lip-read than others, says Mr. Christian, and we lose the thread of the conversation as it moves from one person to another. It was then that we realized we were a bit isolated. But the feeling of isolation didn t last long.

Support network

With the support ofAshby Pondsresidents and staff, the Christians were encouraged to lead a sign language class as a way of opening an avenue for communication. Close friend and interpreter Esther Schaeffer agreed to team-teach the class with the Christians. We decided to limit the class to 20 students so we could provide more individual attention, says Mrs. Christian. The registration list filled up quickly. In addition to the fundamentals, the ten-week class delves into elements of deaf culture. Students learn about the plight of deaf parents raising a deaf child as well as challenges faced by deaf parents raising a hearing child. They also compare American Sign Language (ASL) with Signed Exact English (SEE), two different sign language systems. Esther [Schaeffer] is an excellent teacher, says student Natalie Margiotta, who lives at Ashby Ponds. She thinks it is important that we don t just learn sign language, but learn something about deaf and hearing impaired people. Using learning Spanish as an example, she mentioned that all Spanish people don t think alike, and neither do all deaf people.

Spreading the word

Many students meet twice a week outside of class to practice what they have learned. In addition to advancing their own skills, these efforts have made more people within theAshby Ponds communityaware of sign language. Since the class began, we ve noticed that other residents, not in the class, have picked up some signs, says Mrs. Christian. It s encouraging to often see a number of the students around a table in the Robin s Nest Caf practicing signs together and enjoying themselves. It has been a satisfying experience for us. Several staff members also signed up for the class. I wanted to learn how to communicate with the Christians and future residents who may be in the same situation, says Community Resources Manager Joseph Barrows. The course is instructed in such a way that the signs make sense and are easy to memorize. The class finished in mid-June, but many of the students continue their twice-a-week practice sessions on their own in hopes of improving both their speed and accuracy. [We are] focused on one goal: to better understand each other, says Deanie McCarthy, a retired speech-language pathologist and special education administrator who took the course. We have come from so many different places, careers, and families, but now we want to be a very special neighborhood of friends here atAshby Ponds. This class has moved us even closer to that place.