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January 12, 2003

Communicating her vision

From: Pasadena Star-News, CA - 12 Jan 2003

Woman makes video to teach sign language to public
By Kevin Felt
Staff Writer

PASADENA -- Christie Jenkins is a need-meeter.

More than 20 years ago she turned the tables on men who look on women as sex objects and created and photographed the provocative book "BUNS: A Woman Looks at Men's' in 1980.

The book and related calendars sold more than a million copies.

Years later, while planning to meet with a deaf actor, she went to a video store hoping to find an educational tape that could teach her a little bit of sign language.

There weren't any. So she created one.

Jenkins, who moved to Pasadena in December, wrote and produced "How to Talk to a Person Who Can't Hear,' the only video on American Sign Language intended for a general audience, funding the project with a $100,000 inheritance.

Though it has been six years since the video was released, it has sold about 75,000 copies so far, said Jenkins, who would only divulge that her age w as "40-something.' She still has grand ambitions of selling a million copies.

"There are almost 30 million deaf and hard-of-hearing people in America alone, so there's still a huge market for this,' she said.

Actually, Jenkins said, the wheels were set in motion before going to the video store. While watching "Mr. Holland's Opus,' she had a "spiritual epiphany' to pay attention to deaf actor Anthony Natale.

"When angels tell you to do something, you do it,' she said. She wrote to Natale and they decided to meet. That's when she went to the video store looking for a sign language video.

On the spot, she said she decided to commit her inheritance to the project. She enlisted the services of Natale, NBC Olympics commentator Beth Ruyak and director Brady Connell and went to work.

"We've had hundreds of letters of thanks from people who wanted to learn to sign and couldn't find a way,' Jenkins said.

It's still the only sign language video intended for the general public. Other videos on the market are intended for the deaf, sign language interpreters, parents of deaf children and there is a new series intended to teach babies how to sign, but no others are intended for a wide audience.

"It's a really complete, organic, language,' Jenkins said. "Even hearing people can use it in so many situations.'

Jenkins, who also has written scripts for television sitcoms, said she wrote the video with a goal of making it conversational and entertaining.

"I put in the video what I learned in the first three months of knowing Anthony,' said Jenkins, who learned sign language from books and practicing on her friend. "It's everything you need to know to have a full conversation with a deaf person. I made it kind of like watching an hour of 'Friends' while learning to sign because I wanted a hearing person to think it was fun and be engaged by it.'

Throughout the video, Natale, who also reads lips, has short conversations with other actors. Then Natale repeats the signs for the words and phrases he uses.

The video also contains information about life issues, such as how the deaf use the phone and how they understand movies.

Michele Hackman of Sierra Madre bought the video as a Christmas gift for her 9-year-old daughter, Carissa, who is deaf, but has a cochlear implant to increase her hearing range.

Though Carissa can speak, she wanted to learn how to sign so she could communicate with deaf friends who can't speak or read lips.

"We've tried to learn with books and classes, but it helps to see someone doing it,' said Hackman. "I think it's great. I think kids, especially, really find it interesting and fun to learn sign language. She's already picking up quite a bit of it.'

Magdalena Tenedora, an Alhambra resident, has used the video to teach her sign language to developmentally disabled students at the Lincoln Training Center in South El Monte over the past three years. She said it has been extremely useful.

"It's been very helpful, both for the hearing impaired and for those who aren't deaf,' Tenedora said. "I like it because it is easy to follow and the students like to watch it.'

Jenkins said she hopes to become involved in the Pasadena community and has plans to help local churches create deaf ministries.

For more information on the video, call (888) LEARN-SIGN or visit

-- Kevin Felt can be reached at (626) 578-6300, Ext. 4454, or by e-mail at

Copyright © 2002 Pasadena Star News