The American Sign Language club at Bellevue College hosted an arts and crafts club on Thursday, Oct. 29 as a chance for students to practice their conversational skills. The event was fall and Halloween themed, with a variety of options for arts and crafts. Participants could make jewelry, decorate pumpkins and make marshmallow ghosts. They also played games such as pin the spider on the web and hosted a costume contest. The winner was dressed as the Queen of Hearts, and kept the crafting theme alive by making her costume herself. For the entire night there was a no speaking rule and everyone spent the entire time signing to communicate.
The club hosts similar opportunities frequently. This includes a chat night that happens once a week and draws developing signers from many different schools in the region. Though plenty of learning and vocabulary takes place within the classroom, it is always good practice to use it in conversation, especially while enjoying a fun activity.
BC offers ASL classes up to level six and has had a school club focused on this topic off and on since 1999. While the ASL club advisor Rick Mangan does teach up to level three, he like to “have native signers in the second year program”, someone with the “entire Deaf experience.” Mangan began losing his hearing in his early twenties, and so does not have the same experience was someone who was deafened since birth or pre-lingually.
The ASL learning communities in the area often work together, especially within local schools. Mangan said the weekly chat nights are a time when “students and former students and our Deaf friends get together. It’s an all ages thing so the kids that are taking high school classes come and hang out.” He described the events as an “opportunity for people to mix and to practice their language together”. BC’s club became even more active in 2005 when they got funding from the school as an official club.
While Bellevue College does not have an interpreter certification program, the path to attaining that degree of higher education in ASL is reasonably smooth if not local. Since Seattle Central ended its interpreter certification program, “There’s not even one in Western Washington anymore.” Mangan said. “There’s one in Spokane but its geared towards elementary school interpreters, so it’s not focused on broad range interpreters.” Students who want to become interpreters are transferred down to Western Oregon University.
“It’s got a really good program and we communicate with them really well, Mangan said. “We’ve heard that our students are well prepared for their program. Our students go there with little trouble transitioning.”
Only a small percentage of those interested in ASL end up becoming interpreters. Mangan explained that in his experience in the Deaf community he’s learned that “to be an interpreter takes a special personality”. Interpreting any language can be difficult, but interpreting for the Deaf community has special challenges and an increased focused on ethics because it is a disability community.
Students are drawn to ASL and to the extracurricular events for a variety of reasons. Some have ties to the Deaf community through friends or family and want to improve their communication with those they know. Others think it’s an interesting language and like being able to speak to those who don’t have the same access to communication as hearing people do. Whatever drew people to sign language in the first place, the BC ASL club provides many opportunities to practice and hone those skills.