Fri. Sep 30th, 2022

MILWAUKEE — American Sign Language is the third most commonly taught language in college classrooms across the country.

Only one Wisconsin college offers it as a bachelor’s degree program. UW-Milwaukee. Students can earn four-year degrees in ASL Studies and Interpreter Training at UWM.

“I feel as if American Sign Language is being recognized, respected and represented in many more places,” said professor Catherine Giuntoli-Dubois.

About 500 students take an ASL Studies class during any given UWM school year. This includes majors, minors and those fulfilling a foreign language credit. Students often realize through taking various ASL classes that they have a passion for the language and the community it represents.

“It really is inspiring,” said Giuntoli-Dubois. “From the first day they enter the classroom, their journey begins with immersion.”

Like every other instructor in the program, Giuntoli-Dubois is deaf. Her classes are silent, taught strictly in ASL.

“There is no deaf country where students can go and immerse themselves in the language,” she said, as an interpreter translated. “It’s on us to make sure our students are connected to the community in a very authentic way.”

Along with learning directly from people who are deaf and hard of hearing, students go through what’s called service learning. Instructors have a large network of people within the deaf community that can help students see what life is truly like for people with hearing impairments. This can be in many settings, such as healthcare, like it has been for Lejla Selimi.

“I was thinking about doing healthcare and working around healthcare facilities,” Selimi said, as she hopes to be an interpreter in the mental health field. “I had deaf patients who opened up my eyes on how to help people and making sure people have access.”

Selimi and Giuntoli-Dubois both reiterated the great need for interpreters in the deaf community.

“Students who take American Sign Language will meet a deaf person somewhere and have the opportunity to use this language,” Giuntoli-Dubois said. “If we help them become comfortable with other deaf people, they’ll have a better chance of using in the community in the future.”

Selimi reflects again on the language barriers she has witnessed for people who are deaf.

“I notice that deaf patients come in and they can’t just walk in and be like “I need some help,” she said. “They’re redirected everywhere and access is so important, especially in healthcare and mental health.”

Giuntoli-Dubois noted ASL Studies is a popular pair for students studying criminal justice, psychology and healthcare professions.

She also notes an interesting fact about ASL: it stimulates both sides of a person’s brain. Language stimulates the left side and motor skills stimulate the right side.


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