CSD D/deaf and Hearing Club: Helping ASL students advocate for and interact with Memphis Deaf community

by: Hannah Rae Vaden

The School of Communication Sciences & Disorders (CSD) began offering undergraduate courses in American Sign Language (ASL) in fall 2015. The first semester, 35 students enrolled. As of spring 2021, there are nearly 100 ASL minors and 200 students are enrolled in ASL courses in CSD.

IIn 2018, the University began accepting ASL courses to fulfill the foreign language requirement for the Bachelor of Arts degree and the School began offering a minor in ASL. The school currently has a proposal for a bachelor’s degree in ASL and Deaf Studies under review with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. 

UofM ASL students practice signs in classJessica Johnson helped found the D/deaf and Hearing Club in spring 2020. Jessica returned to the UofM in 2018 to complete her bachelor’s degree, which included a minor in American Sign Language. She was introduced to ASL and the Memphis D/deaf community by her husband who is Deaf. She saw that ASL students needed to get more involved with the Deaf community. Students were nervous about going to Deaf community events, and she knew creating opportunities for students to interact with the community would help. Jessica says, "You have to learn…from the Deaf community to understand that ASL is not just a language, but it is a part of what makes Deaf culture, and to fully understand a culture, you must truly (immerse yourself) in it."

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the club has been meeting via Zoom. ASL learners attend meetings to practice signing with members of the Deaf community. Practicing with native signers helps students to be more confident when using signs. The Deaf members educate the hearing members about their Culture and proper signing etiquette. The club also offers events for students and members about assistive technology, accommodations, ADA law, becoming better allies, and equal access for D/deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

The D/deaf and Hearing Club leadership wants to have a Deaf president for the club in the future. Jessica believes that leadership of the organization should belong to a member of the Deaf community. The club has two faculty advisors, Alene White, who is Deaf, and Lucinda Plexico. They are both instructors of CSD’s ASL courses. Jessica closed by saying, "I must always acknowledge and respect the D/deaf and hard of hearing communities and their culture; they openly invited me into their community and (they have) always patiently (embraced) our students."

D/deaf and Hearing Club