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GoReact for ASL by Sara Seamons - 1M ago

Every year on April 15, everyone groans about filing their taxes. But thankfully there’s a much better occasion we can celebrate today: National ASL Day in the United States!

What is National ASL Day? - YouTube

Deaf and hard-of-hearing people have used American Sign Language since the early 1800s, but it wasn’t until 1960 that ASL was recognized as an official form of communication. Now an estimated 1 million people use ASL as their primary language.

Want to join in and celebrate ASL Day? ASLDay.org shared 10 great ways to tip your hat to the proud legacy of ASL:

  1. Film your story about ASL and share it with the #aslday hashtag.
  2. Host a local signing community potluck or gathering.
  3. Create ASL Day cards for your family and friends.
  4. Make artwork celebrating ASL and post it in your shop.
  5. Perform an ASL poem in your local Deaf club.
  6. Photograph your favorite ASL hand shape.
  7. Share the story of how you learned ASL.
  8. Teach your coworkers 10 ASL words.
  9. Email your favorite ASL signer a note of appreciation.
  10. Share more ideas on the National ASL Day Facebook page or send an email to celebrate@aslday.org.

To learn even more about ASL, check out our article The History of Sign Language. Show your spirit today as we honor everything ASL has done for our community!

The post Happy National ASL Day! appeared first on GoReact ASL Blog.

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There’s nothing quite like watching a friend in the Deaf community achieve their dreams. But when that person is your own brother? That feeling is ten times better.

I recently had the chance to interview my incredible brother Dr. Zachary Featherstone about his journey of becoming a doctor. Zach is a postdoctoral research fellow at Deaf Health Communication and Quality of Life Research Lab at Gallaudet University. He graduated from medical school at Pacific Northwest University from the College of Osteopathic Medicine. His residency in primary care begins in 2019.

I can’t even begin to describe all the things Zach has accomplished or how much he had to do to get where he is today. So I thought the easiest way to share his story was to let Zach tell it himself. Here’s how our interview unfolded:

Interview Transcript

JV: Hello my name is JV from GoReact. I have my brother here with me, Zach Featherstone. Same last name of course! Now he’s finished medical school and is looking for a residency. Usually it’s a two-year internship.

Zach: No, it’s usually two years or more. Really, it’s a three-year-long internship. Actually a minimum of three years!

JV: Oh, so that’s a lot of years of residency work to do right?

Zach: Really it depends on what you specialize in, for example, if you want to be a primary doctor, pediatrician, or family care. Now these specialties usually take up to three years in residency. But if you want to specialize in surgery it’s a minimum of five years. If you want to be a cardiologist it’s a full focused eight year internship.

JV: So, we have a lot of questions for Zach. Remember everyone, there was so much media attention surfacing about Zach and his medical journey. We want to know what’s up with him now. Like the phrase “Where’s Waldo?” What’s he been up to since? He’s here now, so let’s dig in! What’s up, Zach? How’s your experience been so far?

Zach: It’s funny how you phrased it. Yes, I am here now. I really dove into medical school, so that’s been my main focus every day. It was a four-year program for my internship. The first two years was a lot of book studying and tests. The third and fourth year was awesome. You get to rotate shadowing doctors in different specialties every two-six weeks. It’s real cool. For example, you get to shadow a surgeon for six weeks, then an OBGYN the next six weeks and help deliver babies, which was fun!

JV: Have you felt like you’ve already been able to apply your medical skills, like what you’ve learned from school thus far?

Zach: I’ve applied a little bit. I’m not sure I understand your question, can you elaborate on that?

JV: For example you’ve already experienced delivering a baby right? Did you deliver your own baby?

Zach: Oh, no I didn’t deliver my own baby. I decided not to because if something happens my wife would hold it over my head forever! I don’t want to be blamed for making a wrong decision in that kind of situation regarding my own kids. Really it’s not my role in that moment. I did think about it, but at that moment in life my role is being my wife’s husband and not her doctor. I do look forward to the day when one of my children cuts themselves bad enough, and I say “come on over and I’ll stitch you up!” Although it hasn’t happened yet. Darn!

JV: Dang it! You should tell your kids to go jump off a hill, or something stupid and accidentally injure themselves haha!

Zach: Although I don’t have any lidocaine shots at home to numb the area to lessen the pain from the stitches. So that would be too painful.

JV: Toughen them up!

Zach: I can try that!

JV: Okay, so you have a total of four years of medical school and two years of shadowing doctors. At this point which specialty is your favorite? What have you enjoyed the most?

Zach: Really, I like them all. They all have something unique about each of them. For example, an orthopedics doctor (who specializes in bones) during an operation you can see the specific bones, separate muscles fibers and tendons inside the body with your own eye.

In medical school we opened up a cadaver, and when you operate on their body it’s more stiff, so it’s harder to differentiate everything. There’s no flow of blood in their veins or heart pumping, unlike a living body. You have to be more fragile with a living body too.

I remember one time a patient was in surgery because he had broke his femur bone. There was an orthopedic doctor operating on him to replace his hip. To operate the doctor had to disconnect his pelvis bone first, and next sawed down the femur bone to attach the metal probe inside of it. The doctor had a hammer in his hand and motioned for me to come over and watch, so I did. The orthopedic doctor starts hammering away in full force on the femur bone to connect the metal probe to the pelvis. Now for the doctor it was a normal procedure, but for me I thought you had to be a lot softer hammering on human bones. So I learned that day that you don’t. But orthopedic doctors know their stuff! They know their bones! It’s amazing how durable and resilient our bodies are, and how our bodies are designed.

Another specialty I like is urology.

JV: What is a urologist?

Zach: A urologist is a doctor that specializes in working with men’s private areas, specifically their penis and scrotum. Now I will be signing very visually. Often there are patients who came with a condition called Hydrocele, where fluid fills up in the scrotum. Sometimes there is no cause for this, it happens more commonly to men 50 and older. I’ve seen at least 20-25 of these types of surgeries. It’s a cool procedure.

Patient’s usually finally force themselves into the doctor office after the ball sac has retained so much fluid they must get it fixed. Sometimes I’ve seen it so bad that one of their ball sacks is sagging so far down that when they sit on the toilet to go to the bathroom it sags into the toilet bowl water. They’ve waited that long to go to the doctor to get it fixed! I’ve seen one patient have so much fluid retained, that it was the size of a balloon!

JV: Wow, it took them to that point to finally go to the doctor? Wow!

Zach: To resolve this you make an incision on the skin and take out the scrotum-filled sac, and then wrap a towel around it and pop the scrotum-filled sac to release the fluid and it gushes out. Everything is finished in about 10-20 minutes. It’s really fascinating.

JV: That is interesting.

Zach: Yeah it’s interesting.

JV: In general we don’t really learn a lot about the medical field it’s very exclusive. Honestly, most of us probably avoid it too! At the same time it’s cool to learn about how amazing our bodies are, but also how easily you can damage them. It’s intriguing!

Zach: The OBGYN field is fun to watch also, especially C-sections. As a medical student it’s very hands on, you don’t just stand back and watch. Sometimes I assist with using the sutures and various tasks.

I remember one time, a patient came in for a colon surgery because his colon had ruptured and there was stool leaking into his abdomen. This was an emergency situation. The operating doctor told me to come help and hold the colon while he operated. I could feel it was solid and moving inside.

JV: Does it feel like a snake?

Zach: Yes, like a snake, it folds up that way also. We operated by clamping the ends of the colon outside of where the rupture was.

JV: Was it like pinching the ends shut?

Zach: Yes. Then I resected the colon and went ahead and unzipped and zipped the sides to make sure both the outside ends were shut tight. I cut out the middle part where the stool was leaking out, and then the doctor zipped together the two parts of the colon, and that was it!

Lots of cool things. Out of the three years I’ve been shadowing doctors I haven’t had even one doctor deny my assistance and inclusion in shadowing them.

JV: Not one, they’ve all been very welcoming?

Zach: Not one, they’ve all been very supportive and eager to teach me the ropes of being a doctor. Of course, the first week some were apprehensive of me working with them.

JV: Were they not sure how to accommodate you?

Zach: They just weren’t sure how to accommodate my needs, but they never denied my involvement. I think the main reason for this is because doctors in general tend to be very open-minded. Which is a valuable characteristic being a doctor. I think that helps us converse with a wide range of patients and face diverse situations.

JV: That was probably good for your third and fourth year, to see that people are open and willing to work with you, right?

Zach: Yes. One of the coolest and best exposures I got was when I was doing my wound treatment. By that, I don’t mean a sudden injury but rather a chronic wound. A chronic wound would be like how a diabetic handles sugar.

JV: Right, it’s a constant issue.

Zach: Another example would be pressure sores that build up over time from sitting too long. I had to clean it off. It was a lot of hand technique. The doctor would tell me “Go on do it yourself, I’ll watch you. So that part was gross and definitely not my favorite but that doctor was very experienced. He worked as a heart surgeon for 40 years, retired, and then began working in wound care because retirement bored him.

He was watching my technique that first day and told me “You need to become a heart surgeon.” I asked him, “What makes you say that?” “Your hand technique is really good.” I replied, “No, you’re just saying that.” “No,” he told me, “you need to become a heart surgeon.” He said the same thing the next day and over and over again for two weeks. I was wondering why he would say this and I realized it’s because I sign. I’m used to moving my hands in all different ways and it’s really a benefit of being Deaf.

JV: That’s true. Looking back on your overall experience up to now, what advice do you have for Deaf kids who want to become a doctor one day?

Zach: I’ve never been self-conscious about being Deaf. I’ve always confidently told people outright and I think that helps. If I was shy about it, people would be concerned and unsure how to handle it. But if I tell people “I’m Deaf” confidently, they react with a “what can we do?” attitude. That has been one of my biggest lessons of being Deaf. Other people can be of benefit to me, but I can also be of benefit to those around me. It’s not about how my Deafness negatively affects them, but of how I can be of benefit to them.

Secondly, you must learn how people prefer to be communicated with. If you’re awkward, they won’t want to work with you and it’s easy for them to ignore you. I’m not saying to butter them up. You need to learn how to approach people tactfully and match their communication style and preference.

Third, you need to have good English skills.

JV: Written English skills, like typing?

Zach: Yes. You need to be able to read and write. If you’re bad at scribing as a student, you won’t do well. When you write, you need to read too. Those are my three points of advice, with that third one being you need to be fluent in the English language. That doesn’t mean you need to speak, though. I knew two or three Deaf doctors who don’t speak and are still successful.

JV: Alright, I have one last question for you. We’ve discussed advice for Deaf children, now what is your advice for interpreters in the medical field?

Zach: Throughout medical school, I’ve had wonderful interpreters and bad interpreters. My first and second year, my interpreter was wonderful. There were no problems. My third and fourth year, I had six different interpreters. Three of the interpreters were designated interpreters, which means they were at my side at all times. Honestly, I didn’t have a good experience with their policies or their approach. They were a disruption to my process. They tried to get me to change my preferred work methods to fit their preferences and I told them, “No, you need to change what you’re doing to fit me.”

JV:  Right, it’s your major, not theirs.

Zach: Right, it was my profession, and I do things that way for a reason. For example, I always tell the interpreter that I will voice for myself two to three times, and if people still don’t understand, I’ll ask you to please voice for me. This is on purpose. I noticed that people are a little thrown off by the Deaf accent at first, so they’ll initially be confused and the interpreter will immediately try to voice for me, causing the patient to rely on the interpreter for the rest of the relationship. I don’t want that, so I prefer to try to voice again and then they typically understand me the rest of the time because they got used to my voice.

JV: You want them to be able to communicate with you.

Zach: The interpreters think they have to voice for me if the patient doesn’t immediately understand me. But that’s not the case, and it has a bad effect on my relationship with the patient when they do that.

JV: So you tell them, “It takes time, but allow me to control the situation,” which you can say because you’re the doctor.

Zach: Exactly. The other three were phenomenal interpreters and very humble. Each of them did exactly what I wanted and followed my instructions by matching my way of doing things. I didn’t have to explain it again and again each time. They did what I asked and I was able to trust them more and see them as equals. If they didn’t respect what I asked, I would look down on their abilities as interpreters. I know some interpreters won’t like that concept, but that’s my experience.

JV: Well, without you they don’t have a job, so it’s fine. You are the authority in this position, so I feel that you have the right to tell them what you want. And if they don’t want to follow then those interpreters aren’t the right fit. If you had a job interview and were able to communicate well and relate with the employer, then you can instinctively tell whether it’s a good fit or not. Maybe it’s the same situation for you. If someone wants to become your interpreter, you can interview them.

Zach: Sometimes an interview will go well and an interpreter will match my preferences at first, but will stop doing so over time. You just have to remember that everyone is different. No cookie is cut the same.

JV: That’s true

Zach: Everyone is different. I argued with two of my interpreters because they both already interpreted for four other med students and the interpreters had a “know-it-all” attitude. We clashed because I’m different from those other students and the interpreters should have been able to fit my needs. Maybe it was really their own personal struggle to realize that their past experiences don’t always apply because everyone is different. They needed to be able to let go of that and adjust to this new situation.

JV: What was your favorite thing you learned or your number one experience these last four years?

Zach: All of my “first-time” experiences were really cool. I remember how incredible it was to hold a human heart in my hand for the first time. The first time I held a brain was truly humbling. It was amazing to be able to hold that in my hand. Also, I was so nervous the first time I had to sew stitches. I remember being called over to sew, and my hands were shaking so hard! I felt so bad for the guy whose hand I was stitching up. He was a tough cowboy, but I could see him wincing when he saw my shaking hands. I was able to sew it, but shakily.

JV: It’s like in Toy Story 2, when that old man’s hand is shaking while he sews up the toys

Zach: Yes, exactly! Of course, it got better later on. The first time I sewed an eyeball, it was fascinating.

JV: That’s actually sewn?

Zach: Yes.

JV: Wow, I guess that makes sense because it’s not like you would use glue.

Zach: I remember there was one baby whose eye wasn’t aligned correctly. We had to resect the optic muscles, which is on the peripherals of the eyeball and place it in the correct position.

JV: You had to sew it in?

Zach: Yes, we had to sew it.

JV: Wow!

Zach: They brought me over to sew it, and I remember being intensely focused. It was tiny, hence my focus.

JV: Of course, it’s an eye!

Zach: I used forceps while sewing it in place, using an extremely small needle. It was so small, it’s like they were barely there. I did well and was really proud of myself, but of course I was nervous. It’s an eye! One wrong move and you’ll damage it.

JV: And you’re Deaf. You know how precious eyes are!

Zach: Right. It’s really the first-time experiences for everything that I cherish the most. I had a lot of cool experiences. For example, the first time I helped deliver a baby was a really enjoyable experience.

JV: Well, there you have it! Thank you to Zach for coming in and allowing me to interview him. I have been fascinated with his journey. I have seen him deal with many frustrations along the way, and yet he stayed determined to get through and I hope that you will, Zach. Thank you!

Zach: Thank you, it was nice to meet you all.

Want more articles like this one? You can subscribe to our awesome ASL newsletter, The Shroom.

The post How One Deaf Medical Student Overcame All Odds appeared first on GoReact ASL Blog.

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GoReact for ASL by Jv Featherstone - 11M ago
When I wrote about the Seven Deadly Sins of Sign Language Interpreting, I was totally unprepared for such a huge response from our readers.

So many of you said “That’s happened to me!” or “That’s exactly what needs to change.” And plenty more of you resolved to be even better interpreters, which I think is just awesome.

The response was so strong that I immediately knew I needed to write part two. Because the interpreter is only one half of the equation. Interpreters have a huge impact for good or bad—but so do their clients.

How we think about and interact with our interpreters can make all the difference in the quality of service we receive and the work that interpreter goes on to perform. Because the truth is that deaf clients have a bigger influence than they realize. And if you’re easy to work with, you’re going to have a much better experience with your interpreters across the board.

To show you what I mean, here are seven additional deadly sins that deaf clients like you and me are often guilty of committing.

Disclaimer: Keep in mind that I’m talking about good interpreters throughout this article. If you come across bad interpreters or ones breaking laws, please don’t hesitate to report these individuals. But for the purposes of this piece, let’s focus on the good ones, whether brand new, experienced, or somewhere in between.


1. Take Interpreters for Granted

This one is far too easy, folks, and I’m pretty sure we’ve all done it. We live in a time when qualified interpreters are easier to find and hire than ever before. As a result, we can forget what a huge benefit it is to have someone there to work with us. It’s an absolute blessing that we can request access and accommodations by law.

But often we forget to acknowledge this. We get frustrated when things go wrong. We feel entitled to interpreting services and expect them to be there no matter what the circumstances or how late the notice. Simply put, we feel entitled to great interpreters even if we don’t act like great clients. And that needs to stop.

So what does a great client look like? Well for starters, thank your interpreter, especially when they do a good job. Showing gratitude is the polar opposite of taking someone for granted, and this small step can really make a difference. I recently read Dale Carnegie’s famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People. Everything in that book applies to the interpreter-client relationship because if you’re nice to an interpreter, that interpreter will pay it forward.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that interpreters want to work with me simply because I would say thank you. It was easy for me to get the interpreters I wanted simply because they liked me. Later when I became an interpreter, I learned that I could see who the clients were before accepting appointments, and how they treated me definitely decided whether I accepted the job or not.

Bottom line: sign language interpreters who have positive interactions with deaf clients are more respectful, more motivated, and nicer to work with in general. Make sure you’re a client who makes interpreters you’re working with feel good about themselves instead of torn down.

2. Expect the Interpreter to Figure Out What You Want

Interpreters are not mind readers. They’re just regular human beings trying to do their job, but as deaf clients, it’s all too easy to expect the interpreter to just know what we want. Instinctively.

I remember an experience when I went in for a job interview. I fully expected the interpreter to be qualified and know me, so for the first 15 minutes, I made eye contact with the interviewer and didn’t pay attention to the interpreter at all. When I finally glanced over, she was doing a decent job but not catching my quips or unique humor at all.

I scolded myself for expecting a stranger to know me in 10 seconds then quickly changed my approach. I focused on the interpreter to help her capture my voice, and the interview went a lot more smoothly with more laughter too. This small experience made me realize that I should focus on working with the interpreter rather than putting all the burden on them.

But too often we get frustrated instead of calmly explaining what we need and why. Instead of getting mad or silently resenting the interpreter, let’s just communicate openly. If you need something, TELL THEM. Don’t sit around and see how long it takes them to read your body language. It’s easier for everyone to just mention it now instead of later. Sometimes the interpreter just isn’t qualified to handle a specific type of subject matter, so if that happens, kindly say that the interpreter is not a good fit, and move on.

Also keep in mind that not all communication is created equal. The way you bring up a problem can be the difference between a great interpreter who will help you with anything and a frustrated interpreter who’s no help at all. Which brings me to my next point . . .

3. Give Scathing Critique

It’s true that it’s important to educate your interpreters, but ripping them limb from limb isn’t just rough to handle. It’s also counterproductive.

Often when I use VRS, I start using sign names and locational signs, and the interpreter stares at me like he’s been hit by a truck. Then I realize what I’m doing and change my approach to explain everything. I can’t tell you how quickly an interpreter will relax just from this small bit of effort on your part.

Whenever possible, be nice to your interpreter and be gentle about giving feedback. At the end of an assignment, let them know about specific things they did well before explaining what they could have done better. Feeling like a failure never motivated anyone to make positive changes, and you really can help your interpreter do that. The key is to give encouragement and critique hand in hand.

If you’re not quite sure how to give effective feedback for sign language, this article has some useful insights that apply nicely to interpreters.

4. Target your Anger at the Interpreter

The temptation to do this one is strong because we’ve all been there. We all get caught in frustrating, overwhelming, and even hostile situations when we feel misunderstood, ignored, or even attacked for our deafness. This is part of being in a world that wasn’t built for people like us. Sometimes Deaf people get tangled up in terrible situations we didn’t even create, but we have to resist the urge to point fingers and accuse the interpreter of representing audism society.

Obviously this is hard, but it doesn’t give us the right to blow up at our interpreters either. I once had an experience at a post office when I found out that a very important package got lost in the mail. Instead of keeping calm, I got extremely angry. And all of that anger got aimed straight at my interpreter, even though he was genuinely trying to help me find my package.

Whatever the situation, we can’t make our interpreters the face of our anger. All of us have experienced difficult situations directly caused by our deafness and people’s lack of understanding—but that’s no excuse to lash out at the one person attempting to be our voice.

Interpreters are not the enemy, and treating them that way is only hurting our own situation. Instead we need to do whatever it takes to stay on topic, stay calm, and be respectful in these heated moments. And if you do snap at your interpreter, take a moment to apologize afterwards for letting your emotions get the best of you. These people really are our lifeline in this crazy world, and they need to know that we’ll treat them with respect.

5. Forget that Interpreters Have Rights and Rules

Many deaf clients—myself included in my younger years—don’t realize that interpreters have a defined set of professional rules that they’ve committed to abide by. And if they don’t uphold these rules, then they’re not honoring their profession.

As a client, it can alleviate a lot of frustration for both you and the interpreter if you know their official rights and rules. This way you can avoid putting your interpreter in sticky situations and manage your expectations of what they should be able to do for you. Interpreters can’t do everything, and it’s not because they’re being lazy or difficult. It’s because they’ve got to stick to their professional standards, which frankly benefit the clients as much as the interpreters.

To be clear, I still stand by my stance that interpreters should be human and not robots. But we should be aware of situations where it’s not a good idea to ask them to do something that might be unethical.

The best possible thing deaf clients can do is educate ourselves and know the rules. There’s a great article from StreetLeverage on interpreter’s rights, and the Office of Disability Rights has also put together a handy guide on interacting with sign language interpreters. Knowing all the little nuances will help you navigate any situation with confidence.

6. Expect Interpreters to Have a Double Standarda

This is an interesting one for me, and I am definitely guilty of it. We all need to make sure we understand the double standard of communication so we don’t cause problems.

For example, it’s annoying and oppressive when two people use English and not ASL, thereby leaving you out of the conversation. Now think of it the other way around: two people using ASL and leaving the English user out . . . that’s a double standard. Sure, this second situation happens far less than the first one, but honestly it doesn’t matter. Either way somebody is being left out, and if we can fix the situation, we should.

If we follow the golden rule of treating others how we want to be treated, then the best option is to see your interpreter as your mediator or the middle person. Not as someone you can use ASL with and not worry about the other person in the room.

Of course, if it’s just the two of you in a waiting room, that’s a different story. But if there’s a third person or more in the room that don’t know ASL, don’t be a hypocrite. As deaf clients, we all know how painful and frustrating it is to be left out. Try as much as possible to work with your interpreter to include others, communicate openly, and make the people around you feel as comfortable as you’d like to feel in any situation.

7. Look Down on your Interpreter

This one can be a bit sensitive to discuss, but I’ll try my best. I’ve noticed many different situations when deaf clients harbor a certain level of superiority toward their interpreters. If I hired you, then you work for me and I’m the boss, right? The result is that we often make the mistake of looking down on the interpreters working with us.

This viewpoint has always made me uncomfortable for several reasons. First, interpreters are a unique line of work. Even though they’re technically “working for us,” they’re also most definitely our voice. They’re our way to communicate with the hearing world, so in that sense they aren’t just a hired hand. They’re an extension of us in public, and in some cases they guide us through situations we could never navigate without them. And if we don’t treat them with respect, sometimes we run the risk of losing them altogether.

I remember one time I was working with a coworker and an interpreter simultaneously. The coworker kept telling the interpreter what to do and what signs to use, almost like a parent telling a kid how to behave. I could see the interpreter getting more and more angry at my coworker and building hatred toward him to the point that the interpreter didn’t come to that workplace again until my coworker moved on to a new job. The tragedy is that that guy was my favorite interpreter by far. All because of that one experience, I had to settle for other interpreters who were okay but not great like him.

That whole situation could’ve been so easily avoided. Personally, I think someone in an interpreter role deserves to be looked at as an equal. Whenever possible, we need to recognize our interpreters not just as real people but as honored counterparts who make our lives better. Instead of looking down on them, let’s all make an effort to treat them with kindness and encourage others to do the same.


To read more awesome content like this, subscribe to our ASL newsletter, The Shroom.

The post 7 Deadly Sins of Deaf Clients appeared first on GoReact ASL Blog.

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This is a story that really begins back in the 1960s.

“Curb cuts” were a design innovation featured in a story from 99% Invisible. It’s the story of how one idea’s influence spread far beyond the original intentions of those who came up with it and those who promoted it.

What in the world is a curb cut?

Curb cuts are the now-ubiquitous ramping corners of city sidewalks. Before the 1960s there were only a handful of places using curb cuts and they certainly were not widespread.

The new approach to sidewalk design wasn’t merely convenient. Around this time electric wheelchairs began to be more common.

Why did that make any difference?

Before self-propelled wheelchairs, the wheelchair itself was not just a tool deployed for the use of its rider. The mobility of wheelchair riders was tied to an attendant as well. Another person was required if they wanted to go anywhere. Motorized wheelchairs meant that for the first time wheelchair riders could ditch their attendants. Self-propelled chairs meant independence.

That is until you got to the first sidewalk corner where a 6″ concrete drop created an impenetrable obstacle for wheelchair riders.

So a small group of wheelchair-bound activists at Berkeley led by Ed Roberts campaigned for curb cuts. They wanted something familiar to members and allies of the Deaf community. They wanted access.

A big leap forward came with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990.

Some accessibility initiatives over the years have generated pushback, but not curb cuts. Their adoption spread rapidly across the country.

So what’s the curb cut effect?

It turns out that this design improvement doesn’t only make life better for those using wheelchairs. It’s better for lots of people. Navigating sidewalks is easier for people pushing strollers, shopping carts, and roller bags. It’s a godsend for people on bicycles.

Design improvements came about because of one group but ended up serving all groups better. Superior designs that improve usability for many other groups is the curb cut effect.

This has given rise to the concept of universal design, which is famously alive and well in some of the architecture of Gallaudet University. Gallaudet has pioneered deaf spaces in architecture.

Speaking of Gallaudet, in the 99pi article they cited the story of Paul D. Hubbard as an example of curb cut effects. Hubbard was a quarterback for the Gallaudet football team in the 1890s.

Paul D. Hubbard

What was Hubbard’s contribution?

Well as teams of deaf players used sign language to sign plays and instructions to each other, they were pretty easy to intercept (pun intended). Hubbard was the first to gather his teammates into the cluster all NFL fans know today as the huddle.

It’s a case where a convention perfectly and naturally suited to deaf players turned out to be a great idea for pretty much everyone—a classic curb cut effect.

After communicating with some of our team at GoReact, I was showered with examples of curb cut effects with deaf roots. Like Dummy Hoy’s introduction of the signed umpire calls for “safe” and “out” when he played for the Cincinnati Reds—signs that are known by all players and fans from Little League to the Majors. Or like closed captioning and subtitles, a convention that benefits deaf and hard of hearing TV watchers, but also hearing patrons in noisy bars or airports among countless other scenarios. Like the huddle, the benefits of these improvements extend far beyond their origins.

Where else might we see curb cut effects?

This made me think about possible curb cut effects in what we do here at GoReact.

GoReact customers who teach sign language and interpreting may not know this, but GoReact was not originally designed for ASL. It was conceived by a professor who wanted to give feedback to public speaking students.

Despite its origins outside ASL, shortly after launching GoReact, the company was approached by ASL teachers. The gist of those conversations was that these educators loved being able to give feedback on student videos . . . but thought it would be really nice if they could give that feedback in ASL.

So our development team knocked out the first video commenting feature. This allowed sign language teachers to conduct their ASL assignments in total ASL immersion. We had essentially crowdsourced a little universal design for teaching software.

Since those early versions, GoReact has added many features to make life easier for ASL instructors. And I can’t help but wonder about the curb cut effect of all these students more easily learning ASL.

Are there more curb cut effects at work in the teaching of ASL?

Deaf culture and particularly sign language seem to be everywhere these days. Deaf actors and issues are seen in TV shows and movies like Switched at Birth and A Quiet Place. We’ve seen reality TV contestants like Mandy Harvey on America’s Got Talent and of course Nyle DiMarco from America’s Next Top Model and Dancing with the Stars. Recently even the popular live trivia app HQ Trivia asked a question about the sign for “not” in ASL.

ASL is now the 3rd most taught foreign language at American universities with over 100,000 students enrolled in ASL courses each year.

Where does this wealth of sign language exposure end up?

Certainly few of these students are deaf themselves and only a handful go on to become interpreters. But are there curb cut effects to this increasingly widespread use and comprehension of ASL?

What might some of the curb cut effects be?

  • More students taking ASL may mean more employment options for deaf educators.
  • Communication is obvious, but is there a network effect? (Like email, the more people who have it, the more it gets used.)
  • Appreciation for Deaf culture, history, and traditions. Will broader understanding increase the enrichment that comes from sharing the diversity in our human experiences?
  • Will more exposure to Deaf culture make it easier to adopt measures that support deaf employees, customers, and patrons?

Are we seeing the beginning of a more universal teaching and use of sign language in the U.S.?

Who’s to say? One thing seems to be certain and that is that unexpected innovations and their resulting curb cut effects seem to be everywhere. Why wouldn’t we expect them to show up in education or sign language? The key is to keep our eyes open and look for ways to leverage them.

The post Secrets to the Impact of ASL Hidden In the Story of Sidewalks appeared first on GoReact ASL Blog.

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