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June 24, 2004

Sign language students learn in real world

From: Lexington Herald Leader - Lexington,KY,USA - Jun 24, 2004


By Shelley Street

PADUCAH - Pizza Inn waitress Lori Holmes smiled as she watched the hands of a customer while taking drink orders yesterday.

"I got that one," she said as the man made a sign for water.

A group of about 20 students have given up using their voices from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day this week as part of an American Sign Language immersion class funded by the Kentucky Department of Education. It is being taught at the Paducah Board of Education office.

Each day, the group has gone out to lunch at a different restaurant. It's created a few problems, students said through interpreters. One is that most menus don't list water as among beverage choices on menus, meaning students cannot point to the item.

A state law passed in July 2003 requires interpreters for deaf children in school systems to be licensed. The immersion class helps them get the experience they need to pass tests.

"The students, when we started Monday morning, had to stop using their ears instead of their eyes," Jessie Clark said through an interpreter. Clark, who is deaf, is one of three instructors.

Not using voices has caused some communication mix-ups, especially at restaurants. One woman did not get her food at a restaurant Tuesday even though she was the first to order. She ended up sharing with a friend.

Other orders were wrong, and students had to figure out how to tell their servers without their voices. Sometimes they scribbled notes on napkins; sometimes they pointed to menus.

"Some of the waitresses are not sure what to do or how to act," Clark said.

Wanda Watson of Greenville, who works for Trigg County Schools, said she didn't know what to expect when she first took the immersion course three years ago.

"I wasn't quite prepared, ..." she said. "Everybody's hands were going about 100 miles an hour. My reaction was, 'What am I doing here? I don't belong here!' By the end of the week, I had become so much more fluent."

Sally Keaton of Owensboro, who teaches in Daviess County Schools, had taken a few classes in sign language and attended a few church workshops on the subject. They didn't prepare her for the immersion class, she said.

"Book knowledge is nothing compared with being immersed in the language," she said.

"I've been frustrated, scared. I didn't know what to expect, but deaf people are the most understanding and patient people in the world."

© 2004 Lexington Herald-Leader and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.