ASL courses offer opportunities to engage with Deaf community - The University of Tulsa
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ASL courses offer opportunities to engage with Deaf community

In 2022, the film “CODA” won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, launching American Sign Language (ASL) into the spotlight. The film depicts the story of a Child of Deaf Adults, or CODA, and the struggles faced by these children and members of the Deaf community.

Matt Cooper

According to Matt Cooper, applied instructor of American Sign Language in The University of Tulsa’s Kendall College of Arts & Sciences, the film’s Oscar win was one of the many reasons behind the expansion of ASL classes.

Like the other languages offered by Kendall College, ASL has its own rules, grammar, and syntax; however, people often mistake it as “English with hands.” In truth, ASL has a different grammar structure than American English, and there isn’t a one-to-one sign for every word. “That’s where it gets fun,” said Cooper. “That’s where you can start painting a picture.”

A large part of Deaf culture and sign language involves storytelling. Before closed captioning was available on television and film, storytelling was the primary form of entertainment for members of the Deaf community. Stories became a part of the culture and those who told them were the community’s entertainers. “When we start doing stories, the grammar can go out the window,” Cooper said. “You can take the language and really play with it.”

ASL class at The University of Tulsa

Like any language, learning ASL has its advantages. “Everyone has a story about running into a Deaf person and not knowing what to do,” said Cooper. “Learning some basic ASL would be great for everybody.” One of the many ways ASL students hone their skills are through interactions with the Deaf community. Students are required to interact with those who are deaf or hard of hearing twice through opportunities like Silent Dinners or Deaf Coffee, where ASL students, interpreters, CODA, and relatives from the area can communicate.

In the future, Cooper hopes to host more ASL events on the UTulsa campus, including a panel with other CODA. “I was part of one at Tulsa Community College. We had five of us with Deaf parents, and we had an age range, so there were different experiences with Deaf parents throughout the decades.” The goal? Being able to host periodic events that everyone, even non-ASL students, can attend. “That’s the kind of stuff I’m looking forward to doing.”