Nicholas Hadley spells out his names with his fingers. He started doing it unconsciously in elementary school, when Hadley first learned American Sign Language to accommodate the needs of a deaf friend. Although the University of Oregon senior has since supplemented his language skills with fluent Spanish and French and passing German, there’s something about accompanying his verbal expressions with physical manifestations that he just can’t shake.
Perhaps, as his friend and co-director of the UO American Sign Language Club Csea Leonard suggests, it’s because the three-dimensional aspect of ASL creates a “show me, don’t tell me” form of communication.
It was a love for the language, the desire to promote ASL culture and a mutual sentiment of obligation to rally for the deaf and hard of hearing that united Hadley, Leonard and senior Nina Nolen as co-directors of the UO ASL Club in June 2012. According to Leonard, the club has wavered in and out of existence throughout its history at the UO, making its most recent comeback with a push for ASUO recognition last spring, an effort spearheaded by the current club directors.
“We want to provide … a place where new students can learn in a real-life context an awesome new language, and the awesome new culture behind it. And of course, (we want) to raise awareness of the deaf culture that already exists in our city and in the world at large,” Hadley said.
The club began its community outreach efforts in the fall by hosting pizza dinners, potlucks and participating in community events such as ASL screenings of “The Wizard of Oz” at the UO Pocket Playhouse and a visit by deaf storyteller Peter Cook last November. In addition, the club participates in the monthly Silent Coffee nights hosted by Eugene Coffee Company and holds bi-weekly meetings in The Buzz — a location that they hope will inspire club participation through visibility.
According to Jeff Larson, an accessible education adviser, UO students with hearing impairments have their specific educational needs provided for by the Accessible Education Center. Through the AEC, the UO can administer personal ASL interpreters, professor-student amplification devices and in-class lecture captioning free of charge for students who require hearing assistance. In addition, the AEC will provide ASL interpreters for UO events at the request of the hosting club or organization.
Despite the availability of such accommodations, Hadley and Leonard find themselves discontent with their real-world implementation. In their opinion, the deaf and hard of hearing are often overlooked by campus organizations as a minority group requiring special accommodation. As directors of the club, they hope to focus their efforts on calling attention to the inclusion of hearing impaired and lobbying for minor changes in UO events — the closed captioning of all public movie screenings and ASL interpreters at every public lecture, for example.
“Those types of things may seem really small, but they add up really fast,” Leonard said.
As a scholar of Romance Languages, Hadley understands the initial feelings of awkwardness and anxiety that often accompany the effort of learning a new language. However, he hopes that the atmosphere of acceptance that he has worked to establish within the ASL club will encourage newcomers to overcome their initial hesitation and jump in to a language that he believes is both useful and beautiful.
“I think it’s valuable to know sign language because it’s a new way to express yourself,” Hadley said. “It’s a whole new culture. It’s a whole new way of thinking, and it’s a very pretty way to communicate.”