July 1, 2022

An inside look at the deaf community in Columbus

by Brianna Murphy

American Sign Language, or ASL, is an increasingly popular language to take at Capital. Four ASL courses are offered- Elementary American Sign Language I, Elementary American Sign Language II, ASL Fingerspelling, and Intermediate American Sign Language I.  ASL is just one component that compromises deaf culture.  Chris Driscoll, a deaf professor at Capital, provided some insight into this captivating culture.

BM: What is the biggest misconception about Deaf Culture? 

CD: The biggest misconception about deaf culture is hearing people often feel pity for us because we can’t hear. Hearing people are always trying to find a way to “fix” us to become like them – hearing. The media and medical world focus’ on the pathological aspect of deafness and encourage parents of deaf children to get their children cochlear implants. Deaf people don’t need, or necessarily want, to become hearing. Think about any other culture that speaks a different language, for example, Japanese. When people study the Japanese language, they become fascinated not only with the language itself, but also with the beauty of the Japanese culture. No one would feel pity on a native Japanese person and try to change their language. Deaf people and ASL are no different. ASL is a beautiful language and deaf people share a rich and intriguing culture.

BM: Do people ever treat you differently (like you’re lower functioning) than another person would be treated? How does it make you feel? 

CD: When people “treat me differently” because I am deaf, I understand it’s only because they have preconceived ideas about what it means to be deaf. I am no different than hearing people. I go to work. I have a house. I have a son and a daughter. I do all of the same things and have all of the same responsibilities as anyone would have, hearing or deaf.  Deaf people are not “lower functioning.” We simply communicate differently than hearing people. It is no different than a person speaking a different language. Hearing people assume that deaf means handicapped, but if they could see from our perspective, they would understand. We are not “lower functioning,” we simply communicate in a different language.

BM: What is the one thing you want students to take away from an ASL course? 

CD: One thing students take away from an ASL course is if they have an interaction with a deaf person, they are no longer tempted to use paper and pencil to communicate. They can communicate in ASL and be proud of their accomplishment in learning a new language.

BM: Why do you think so many students are interested in taking ASL? I have several friends (including myself) who, despite having taken a language course, have elected to take ASL as well. Why do you think that is? 

CD: Students are interested in taking ASL for a variety of reasons. Students get exposed to a new language, of course, but they are exposed in a way that they have never experienced with other languages. ASL is a visual language, not verbal and that provides a very different experience for hearing students. Learning ASL can be a lot of fun if the student gets involved in the class and the culture. In class, we don’t sit, read, listen and repeat.  ASL is interactive.  We play a lot of games. We also use a lot of facial expressions, which is also a new experience for many students, but it’s a good time. Another thing that sparks interest in ASL is that the students will have an opportunity to have a deaf instructor. Many people never interact with deaf people in their lifetimes and even fewer people can say they had a deaf instructor in college. The end result is that students leave class having experienced not only a new language, but also a new, fun way to learn.

BM: Is there a deaf community on Capital’s campus? 

CD: There is not a deaf community here on Capital’s campus. While I am unaware of deaf events on campus, there are deaf events throughout the central Ohio area. By encouraging students to attend these events, we are hoping to improve their sign language skills through immersion. If a student wants to be successful with ASL, immersion is the way to accomplish that goal. It’s no different than if a student learns Spanish. If a Spanish student wants to become proficient in that language, they may decide to travel to Spain to enhance their learning. Luckily for ASL students, central Ohio has the nation’s third largest deaf community providing an opportunity to improve their skills without the expense of travel. Their success is heavily dependent on interaction with deaf people. When students get involved in the deaf community, not only will they improve their ASL skills, they might also make new friends. That is positive for everyone involved.

BM: What is the deaf community in Columbus like? Is it prevalent? What are some events in Columbus that students in ASL could attend? 

CD: As I mentioned, Columbus has a large deaf community.  There are many events that students can attend. An easy way to learn about these events is to join the “Ohio Deaf and ASL social events” on Facebook.

BM: What are some fundamental values in the deaf community? What can be done to educate society about them? 

CD: An important value of the Deaf community is American Sign Language. It’s important to keep this language alive. Again, deafness is not something that needs to be fixed with cochlear implants. While that may be a decision that some people make, it is not the right decision for all deaf people. Most importantly, the value of cochlear implants cannot be determined by hearing people. That is a personal decision that can only be decided by the person who is considering it as an option.

BM: What is one thing a hearing person should know about the deaf community? 

CD: One important thing a hearing person should know about the deaf community is that we can do everything hearing people can do, except hear.

BM: Do you like teaching ASL? Students seem to really appreciate and enjoy the class. I know I do.

CD: I thoroughly enjoy teaching ASL. Not only do I enjoy the students, I also enjoy sharing my language and culture with people. It’s very rewarding helping students learn about ASL and the deaf community. By teaching ASL, not only am I helping students with their academic endeavors, I am also giving them an opportunity to step into a culture that they otherwise may never experience, and it is beautiful!


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