Rutgers American Sign Language club teaches students about hard-of-hearing life
A group on campus is teaching students to talk without speaking.
As it enters its second year as a club at the University, the Rutgers American Sign Language Club continues to teach students how to sign while educating them about deaf and hard-of-hearing culture, said Emily Diep, the group’s historian.
“There's a lot of things we don't consider. For example, a fire alarm. It gets our attention because we hear it, but someone who is deaf or hard of hearing may not hear that,” the School of Engineering sophomore said. “So they utilize the light fixtures to notify anything that's going on, and not even just fire alarms.”
This practice extends to other aspects of their lives. The deaf or hard of hearing often have doorbells that are wired to lights around their homes, and their cell phones are usually set to vibrate, said Nour Srouji, the club’s founder and president.
Srouji, now a School of Engineering junior, started the club with a friend in the fall of 2014 after noticing a lack of opportunities during the semester for students like her, who were interested in learning sign language. She said her own interest in ASL stemmed from her experiences in high school.
“My high school robotics team was joint between our high school and the school for the deaf, so there were some deaf students on our team,” she said.
Srouji said that after working with her deaf teammates, she wanted to continue to learn and educate others about the world and language of those who cannot hear.
Because many do not know much about what it is like to be deaf, there are a number of misconceptions about the deaf, said Andrea DiSanto, a School of Arts and Sciences junior who serves as the club’s public relations chair.
“The most common one is the ‘deaf and dumb’ misconception,” DiSanto said. “Some people ... assume that people who are deaf or hard of hearing … don't understand as much. I'm not sure why, but a lot of people assume that they can't write or they won't be able to speak … but they're by no means less intelligent than anybody else.”
Many also assume that the deaf can read lips, while the majority of deaf people cannot, she said. So though many think that speaking slowly and enunciating may help, it does not.
Misconceptions like these are addressed during the group’s cultural meetings, which also seek to inform students about how the lives of the hard of hearing differ from the lives of hearing people, Diep said. The group’s other meeting format is dedicated to teaching students sign language.
“Each of the members have a different story about why they're learning,” she said. “Some of them are like me — they've never had any background in sign and they just wanted to learn a new language. Some of them have family members who are hard of hearing or deaf, and others are learning to become interpreters.”
While American Sign Language primarily uses hand gestures, signers incorporate facial expressions and body language to get their message across, she said. And unlike English and many spoken languages, verb tense does not exist in ASL. Instead, there is a sign to indicate whether something happened in the past or will happen in the future.
ASL’s sentence structure also differs from the English model. The most important part of a sentence tends to go in the front, she said.
“So if I say I bought a cat, I would introduce the cat before I said I bought it,” Diep said. “It's just a way of them simplifying our language, because we have a lot of words that they don't. And they don't sign every single word, so they bring the most important thing first so that they know what they're talking about.”
Nikita Biryukov is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies. He is an associate news editor for The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @nikitabiryukov_ for more.