University ASL Program Recognizes Deaf Awareness Month

The University of Minnesota Duluth's ASL minor is the second largest minor at the school.

DULUTH, Minn.- As September comes to an end, Fox 21 goes into a national month topic that resonates with a small but present community in the Twin Ports.

“Deaf Awareness Month is important to our community. It gives recognition to the language that we value,” Deaf studies instructor at the University of Minnesota Duluth Sunny Brysch signed, translated through an interpreter.

First honored in Rome in 1958, the month involves advocating for awareness and rights for the deaf community.

“Hearing loss has really impacted my life greatly, and learning A–S–L and knowing A–S–L has just revolutionized my world,” Joanne Coffin-Langdon, a fellow deaf studies professor said.

Joanne lost her hearing when she was 10 years old. Being a part of the deaf community for almost her whole life, she learned and began teaching ASL at UMD, but also teaches her students deaf culture and history, focusing largely on the different means of communication there is when interacting with the deaf community.

“For me, I use whatever communication works,” Coffin-Langdon said.

This differs from Brysch, who has been deaf since birth.

“Some people think, Oh… there’s only one way to be deaf, but the deaf experience itself is highly cherished, even though it takes many, many different forms… The deaf community here is quite small, and it’s almost like a family in the regard– as a community and as a family because we all pretty much know each other around here.” Brysch said.

She often teaches her classes using an interpreter, and it’s how she did her interview, translated by Nancy Diener, a completely hearing advocate.

Deaf studies students and the involved community in Duluth gather once a month to socialize and catch up with local events.

“It helps the hearing world and deaf world to be able to interact better,” Diener said.

Early in September, A&E aired a documentary called “Deaf Out Loud,” a special following three families living in a hearing world. ASL students met to watch the show, a part of the month’s celebration.

“This whole group, this whole culture, this whole linguistic minority, these people, they exist out there,” Coffin-Langdon said.

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