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December 29, 2002

Sign language, the art of communication

From: Sidney Herald, MT - 29 Dec 2002



It's one of those things most people take for granted - being able to hear, see, feel or smell.

But you don't have to hear to understand what's happening around you. It's a nice benefit of life, but not totally essential for living. Life continues, even if the ears and eyes have failed.

Reba Rambo Gardner wrote the words and music to a Christian song called "Go Ye." The words in the song ask several questions:

"How do we talk to the deaf ears? What can we show to the blinded eyes? Can we teach the speechless to sing a song? And help all the lame ones to walk in the light..."

There are many ways to communicate.

For the blind, Braille is used. Special dots form letters of the alphabet. Fingertips trace the dots to read the information.

Those who cannot speak use the pen, dance, mime or sign language to communicate. This is also true of those who are hearing-impaired.

Carrell Evans, Sidney, has learned to speak through sign language. She shared her art through song during the Christmas Stroll Nov. 29.

To teach through sign language is to touch a heart. There must be a great bond between teacher and student - a trust like no other. A life could depend on what is said through signing. Evans has developed a trust with people who hear through her hands.

Evans has no real hearing problems, but she does remember the feeling of not being able to hear for five weeks because of an ear infection in fifth grade. "It was devastating," Evans said.

"The bonding is so true between student and teacher. There's got to be that heart-to-heart communication. It's the link to the outside world. When they sign to each other, just a gesture can say a whole thought," Evans said.

Evans says there's a tight bond between deaf people. "The deaf community is an entity in itself," she said.

Evans and her husband attended their son's graduation and witnessed a kinship between a translator and a hearing impaired individual.

"There was a young lady in the graduating class who had her translator to get her through commencement," she said. "She could see the speaker and read through the signing what was going on. She had made her way through college with translators."

One's heart must be pretty big to care so much for someone who hears only by motions of hands, the words that someone reads from another's lips.

Evans took sign language classes for a reason. "I'm not proficient in speaking," she said. "I could stumble through. I do more charades with the foreign language. With sign language, I learned enough to carry on a rudimentary conversation. Then I started doing music signing."

Evans went to a "Jesus Northwest" concert in Vancouver, Wash., and happened to sit next to the deaf section. "I watched a woman sign the songs," Evans said. "I thought it was so beautiful. I knew I could do that. I can't carry a note in a basket. I grumbled at God for many years because I really wanted to sing. I have no talent for singing. I can do this without having to sing, so that's why I got started.

"It was really interesting to me that the music is done so differently than talking," Evans said. "There's a little bit of poetic license to have to get in, in order to fit the words into the song. It's been important to me to get the message across when the words change a little bit. Sometimes you have to tweak it."

Evans started out using the "SEE" sign language.

"It's what the schools have gone to," she said. "It's more of a symbolic signing rather than the "finger spell" and the "ASL" (American Sign Language). But then after I had taken classes, I found ASL more universal in the deaf communities than the SEE signing. SEE is easier to get across to the little children. Over the years, I've developed more to the ASL signing because if I were going to sign music to a deaf group it would be easier for them to understand.

Evans says she gets involved with the songs.

" I signed one year for the Easter Cantata at the church. It really moved me. I just love it when the little kids get excited. A lot of the kids here wanted to learn some signing. But, since I don't really do the interpreting for deaf people, I don't have that kind of connection."

Whether you're proficient in sign language, speaking, singing or making a beautiful painting with a brush clenched in your teeth, it's all communication.

Copyright 2002 Sidney Herald Leader.