ASL alt-break advocates for deaf awareness, provide experience of a lifetime

Over Spring Break, the ASL club took a field trip to Washington D.C. in coordination with the deaf liberal arts university Gallaudet, which has an elementary and secondary school for the deaf and hard-of-hearing on campus. Their purpose was to volunteer at the elementary school and high school’s after-school programs, which were understaffed last week while the Gallaudet students that usually help run it were off on Spring Break, according to coordinator Taryn Weaver. It was run by three coordinators: Weaver, Danielle Rubin and Sidayah Dawson. The program had a total of 11 other participants.

Weaver is an eighth-semester biology major who originally signed up for ASL classes as a language requirement, but joined the club to have a chance to become more fluent. The ASL department is very small and consists of the club, the classes and the Spring Break trip. For the most part people join the club after taking the classes, like Weaver. Others join just out of interest, like fourth-semester speech, language and hearing sciences and American Sign Language double-major Rubin.

“A lot of advisors tell their students to take it (ASL classes) because they say it’s easy, which is something we’re trying to get the club to get advisors to stop saying,” Weaver said. “But then once you get in the class, it’s so intensive that a lot of people want to see what else there is, so they get involved in club and bring their friends in, but it’s mostly people from the classes.”

According to Weaver, the only deaf members of the club are a handful of graduate students and the professors. There are interpreters present to translate.

Weaver went on this field trip for the first time last year just after she took ASL II. Interacting with the kids was a little intimidating at first, she said.

“The kids, they know that we’re hearing, so they kind of, some are nicer than others about it,” Weaver said. “You’re like invading in their territory, it’s like going to a different country and not really knowing the language. So last year was definitely a culture shock, but it’s just an experience that I think everyone learning ASL eventually has to face, because the point of learning it is to interact with people like that.”

“It’s a different experience, but they’re kids, it’s like working with any other kids, but we just have to adapt to their environment,” she added.

Rubin agreed.

“It was really cool, because we got to experience just a normal elementary school and high school,” she said. “They’re really no different than any other kid, and so they’re really cute, and the high school kids were really nice because they saw how awkward we were being and reached out to us.”

The language boundary was to be expected, as half of this trip’s purpose was to give ASL club members a chance to experience a full immersion into the language, but the kids and teens still had a blast hanging out with the college students. Both Rubin and Weaver’s favorite memories of the trip sounded more like a party than an after school program.

“I would say (my favorite memory was) going to the elementary school on the last day,” Rubin said. “They had moon bounces, and everybody was just kind of running around and having fun. It was a little bit of a free-for-all, but you could tell everybody was enjoying themselves.”

“We make this project as part of the learning experience to interpret a song into ASL, and then perform it and record it and put it together,” Taryn said. “This year, everyone just got really involved in it and everyone had a vision and then we were able to put it together and create multiple messages.”

The music video can be found on YouTube by searching “This is Me: UConn ASl Club 2018.” The video is an interpretation of “This is Me” from “The Greatest Showman.”

Taryn and Rubin both had a message of deaf awareness to give to UConn students:

“If nothing else watch the video, and if you learn something or if you saw something you’ve never seen before just share it and show someone else,” Taryn said. “It’s a small community, the deaf community, ASL community at UConn. It’s small, but it’s something within every community that if one more person learns it (ASL) or one more person understands it, and can advocate for it, it would make their lives (members of the deaf community) so much easier.”

“Just for everyone to take the time to just even learn the (ASL) alphabet would make a deaf person’s day,” Rubin said. “Just spend a few minutes to learn something, and maybe try and help to increase access to really anybody with a disability and to take classes at UConn.”

Even if you have never taken an ASL class or know nothing about the language, it isn’t too late to learn. The ASL club is always open to new members and classes are held each semester. Everyone is welcome at the upcoming Deaf Awareness Day event that will be held by the ASL club on April 12 from 6 to 9 p.m. in ITE C80. This year the club will be doing a production of  “Frozen” in ASL with a slightly altered plot, so it should be a really fun and entertaining night.


Rebecca Maher is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at rebecca.maher@uconn.edu.