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July 6, 2003

American Sign Language classes in demand and offered locally

From: Shreveport Times, LA - Jul 6, 2003

Nita Birmingham / The Times

The hard-of-hearing and deaf population in Shreveport numbers about 60,000, which may help explain the popularity of American Sign Language classes offered almost continuously at Betty and Leonard Phillips Deaf Action Center of Louisiana.

The center offers classes on numerous levels of difficulty, from beginning sign language to fluent conversations. Tabitha Glass, director of vocational services at the center, is teaching a beginning class scheduled to finish at the end of July. Two or three classes run some weekday nights, with each class averaging 15 to 20 people.

"There is a demand for this. (The deaf) have needs, too. They have rights. They need services, and we are here to accommodate them," Glass said. "Because Shreveport is a larger metropolis area in Northwest Louisiana, that's where the deaf are going to go."

There was no such service in Shreveport before the center was established in 1982 by a group from the Shreveport Regional Arts Council, Executive Director David Hylan said. The center at 601 Jordan St. is a nonprofit social service agency governed by a board of directors, of which 51 percent are deaf.

Needs have changed over the years, Hylan said. The affordability and accessibility of computers decreased the need for assistance with communication, but the Americans With Disabilities Act has increased the need for interpreters.

"If a deaf person calls the city and says ... I would like to attend (a council meeting) and I need an interpreter, then it is the City Council's responsibility to contact an interpreter and have one there," Hylan said. The center provides interpreters for a variety of needs, from AA meetings to college graduations. Someone is available 24 hours to provide interpreting services, Glass said.

Interpreters must be certified by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, but many people just want to learn the basics, Glass said.

"We've had a lot of doctors or nurses. They've come into contact with deaf individuals and they want to learn. They want to be able to say 'yes' or 'no' or 'do you hurt?'#" Glass said.

American Sign Language has its own grammatical structure and syntax and is not English, Glass said. Students who take the beginning class must score at least 80 percent on a test to advance to other levels.

Fees are charged to cover the cost of class materials and to contribute to center services that don't receive funding, Hylan said.

Copyright 2003© The Times.