The Carleton University Students Association (CUSA) recently hosted an All About Sign virtual event in collaboration with the Algonquin Students Association to celebrate International Day of Sign Languages and International Week of the Deaf.
The event on September 23 featured Leah Riddell, the director of community outreach for the Ontario Cultural Society of the Deaf and owner of SignAble Vi5ion Inc. Riddell spent the evening discussing Disability Justice, Deaf Accessibility and Deaf Culture. Riddell also taught a short lesson on the history of American Sign Language (ASL) and led participants in an interactive ASL lesson at the end of the night.
Callie Ogden, Vice President (Community Engagement) of CUSA and organizer of the event, said the goal of the event is to get more students from Carleton and Algonquin College to learn about the community and deaf culture.
“I was thinking [International Day of Sign Languages] would be a really exciting opportunity to provide students with the opportunity to learn a sign language and learn more about the deaf community if they really hadn’t had the chance to do so before, ”said Ogden .
In his presentation, Riddell emphasized the importance of educating students on proper etiquette when interacting with deaf people.
“Don’t ask someone if they’re lip-reading, please. Don’t assume, just ask for their preference. For some people, asking if they lip read can be a trigger, ”said Riddell.
She spoke of deafness as a culture rather than a disability.
“Isolated from others, you have this bond of mutual understanding and shared experience, and the culture of people grows together,” said Riddell.
Riddell also explained how learning ASL as a hearing person doesn’t just benefit the deaf community; it also benefits the learner.
“Sign language improves brain function […] you memorize better, it improves your productivity, as well as that [deters] Alzheimer’s and dementia, ”she said. “It can help you read and be read in terms of facial expression and body language.”
The event was intimate, limited to 30 participants to encourage participation. About ten students from Carleton and Algonquin were in attendance, but all participants asked questions and attempted to enroll in ASL with Riddell via Zoom.
CUSA operates the Carleton Disability Awareness Center (CDAC), and Ogden said she would like to do more disability justice work around the deaf community through the CDAC to work towards a more inclusive environment in Carleton, but there are no concrete plans in place yet.
After the event, Ogden said CUSA plans to host another ASL party in the future, possibly with Algonquin hosting Disability Justice Week in October.
“Learning about disability and justice for people with disabilities and about different cultures provides a more inclusive environment in Carleton, when people learn about a culture other than their own. […] it really allows people to broaden their horizons and their understanding of the world, ”Ogden said.
Carleton offers ASL courses, as well as a minor in ASL for those who wish to learn the language.
Riddell said people can find more information about the history of deafness and the culture of the deaf through the Ontario Cultural Society of the Deaf, of which she is the director of the community approach.
“It’s great to be more exposed to the Deaf community because people then learn to respect Deaf people… It tries to remove the stigma around Deaf people and the Deaf community,” Ogden said.
Featured image from Screengrab.