I have always wanted to connect with people. I believe communication is important to being an inclusive community, but something that always intrigued me was communicating with members of the Deaf community.
In the fall of 2017, I had the privilege to take my first American Sign Language (ASL) class while studying at Binghamton University. If I never took these classes I would have never had the opportunity to learn ASL and Deaf culture. I thought about all the people who have never come in contact with ASL and wondered how we can be inclusive to a community we’re not exposed to.
I decided to make it my mission to educate others on Deaf culture and ASL in order to promote inclusion and bridge the gap between the deaf and hearing worlds.
One of the first problems I realized when advocating for the Deaf community is that the interest was there to learn, but people didn’t have the resources or time to commit learning ASL. I wanted to help people connect to each other even if it only impacted one person.
I started by telling my friends about what I learned in the classroom, and I taught them a few basic signs. They began using these signs to communicate with Deaf customers at their workplace, which was an amazing start to become more inclusive.
After seeing the interest and success I had with educating my friend group, I wanted to reach even more people so I joined my school’s American Sign Language club as an Events Coordinator. In the summer of 2018, I spent time volunteering at a school for the Deaf on Long Island. This experience gave me a different perspective on sign language.
At a school for the Deaf, I had the privilege to receive my sign name, which is a sign created especially for you based on your characteristics and personality. Sign names can only be created from people in the deaf community. This was extremely rewarding to me.
All of my experiences while learning about Deaf culture were great, but it was even more rewarding when I saw the impact first-hand.
As I was waiting in line for the bus back to school, I could tell a woman was requesting money from the others before me. She wasn’t verbally asking but just holding up a sign.
Finally, she made her way to me.
Her sign read, “Collecting donations for Deaf Education.” I quickly signed my name to her and told her I knew American Sign Language. She signed her name back to me, Ronda. Her face lit up because someone was able to communicate with her, in her language. In this moment I realized how important it is to connect with this community and engage in learning about other cultures.
In the summer of 2019, I began my summer internship at Verizon Media on their Engagement, Culture and Communications team. I was so happy to be working for a company that prides themselves on their accessibility, diversity, and inclusion innovations.
Verizon Media’s drive to create an inclusive culture inspired me to propose an American Sign Language workshop for all of our employees in the office. I knew there was much to learn about Deaf Culture, but I was dedicated to bridging the gap between the hearing and deaf worlds. I did some research and I found ASL Discoveries, a Sign Language Educational Company. Together we created an event to bring awareness to Deaf culture and ASL at Verizon Media.
There was so much interest with employees so we were able to add another workshop with a combined total of over 50 employees attending. This was a very big accomplishment to me because of how busy Verizon Media employees are.
ASL Discoveries’ staff taught employees about Deaf Culture and Sign Language. Employees left the workshop wanting to learn more and empowered by the fact that ‘Deaf can.’ This experience was extremely rewarding because when I left I made an impact and helped educate people to be more inclusive with this culture.
At Verizon Media, Accessibility is part of their everyday processes, so their customers can access the world they love. Verizon Media has a whole lab dedicated to accessibility so we took the staff of ASL Discoveries to the lab to show them how they work on making their brands accessible to all people. They showed the staff the collection they did with Getty images figuring people that are deaf signing to each other. The staff was moved that a company appreciated their culture and gave it the recognition it deserves.
I learned during this experience, and my journey to being an advocate for Deaf culture, that the interest to learn is there. Inclusion isn’t possible without the education and exposure to learning opportunities. I was glad I got to use my time at Verizon Media to continue my passion for inclusion, accessibility and awareness for Deaf culture. Now as I enter my senior year, I am committed to searching for opportunities that will allow me to advocate for Deaf culture and education wherever I may go.
If you want to hold a Deaf workshop in your office, check out ASL Discoveries!