Signs of unification at UConn through Deaf Awareness Day

The UConn American Sign Language club puts on a show for students and community members during Deaf Awareness Day on Thursday night. Students from the ASL 4 class worked for months to create a play version of "Hercules" in American Sign Language for the audience to enjoy (Maggie Chafouleas)

The entertainers for this year’s Deaf Awareness Day were met with a sea of hands waving in silent applause, congratulating them all on stellar performances given in celebration of Deaf culture. On April 11, the American Sign Language (ASL) Club hosted the event featuring a rewritten version of “Hercules,” written and performed by the ASL 4 class, followed by a comedy show by Patrick Fische, an internationally known Deaf storyteller, comedian and professor. Both acts focused on topics in Deaf culture, presenting them in engaging and educational ways.  

The interpretation of “Hercules” centered around the title character being Deaf rather than having incredible strength. It commented on the struggles of a child growing up in a hearing world without access to sign language and forced to live removed from other Deaf people and culture.  

Hercules is taken away from the gods, all of whom are Deaf and use sign language, and made to believe that being different means he is broken. Throughout the play, he finds both Deaf culture and himself, and learns that “being different makes you a hero.” 

The play touches on important issues such as language deprivation of Deaf people from a young age, the challenges a Deaf person faces when forced to assimilate into a hearing world and the debate of the use of cochlear implants.  

“The class chooses the issues and passage in the play,” ASL professor Doreen Simons, who has been involved in all 17 Deaf Awareness Day celebrations at UConn, said. “[Deaf Awareness Day] allows UConn to be more aware of Deaf issues, and it would be unacceptable not to educate the students.” 

The act following the presentation of “Hercules” was a comedy show by Patrick Fische that had the entire audience laughing, albeit for different reasons. His stories were uproariously funny, and he masterfully described the events in ways that proved him to be a skillful and practiced storyteller.  

“I really enjoyed being able to experience Deaf culture outside of a traditional classroom setting, and I liked how I didn’t have to be fluent in ASl to understand Patrick Fische’s jokes,” Christina Deoss, eighth-semester speech, language and hearing sciences major, said.  

There was something for everyone to enjoy in his tales, whether Deaf or hearing. Many of the Deaf spectators signed that they related to the experiences he described, from how he explained the way Deaf people give and receive directions to how he knows which elevator is coming without hearing it.  

The hearing audience members, many of which were current or former ASL students, found these stories funny as well, but related more to the long, yet not exhaustive, list of his 20 top mistakes he sees ASL students make very often.  

“I have definitely made those [mistakes] in the past, he had me crying with laughter,” Grace Pelletier, eighth-semester speech and hearing major, said.  

He cited such mistakes as “small signing,” which was interpreted as whispering, and wrong or delayed facial expressions. Each mistake was accompanied by its own example, and by the end, not a single person in the audience was without a cramp in their side from laughing. 

The event as a whole was a huge success, despite a concern earlier this week involving the previously scheduled performers.  

“[Deaf Awareness Day] is awesome because it brings publicity to the department, and brings light to a language I would love to see become more common on the campus. It could be the spark to start someone’s interest in ASL,” Caitlyn Cody, an eighth-semester psychological sciences major who helped organize the play with ASL 4, said.  

All of the hard work by so many students, professors and performers that went into making this event as outstanding as it turned out to be was evident, and the tremendous response it received from the audience was well-deserved. The celebration of Deaf Awareness Day is a great opportunity for both Deaf and hearing people to come together to learn about and appreciate the Deaf community and culture. 


Meghan Shaw is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached cia email at meghan.n.shaw@uconn.edu.