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August 1, 2004

Herd breaking down barriers with free sign language class

From: Georgetown News Graphic, KY - Aug 1, 2004

Georgetown News-Graphic

Shes been called to the police station and the emergency room to break down communication barriers.

A volunteer interpreter of American Sign Language, Jawanna Herd has sometimes been the only way for law enforcement officers and medical professionals to communicate with deaf people they encounter.

Herd initially learned to sign as a college student at Faith Baptist Church, where interpreting was offered for deaf members during worship.

I liked getting to know the deaf people, getting to learn their culture, she said. Its just a different perspective. They do everything anybody else does. They just dont hear.

She soon began interpreting services and has been instructing a sign language class at the church since about 1972, initially focusing on instructing other church members interested in becoming interpreters.

Although the church has not recently had any deaf members, Herd has continued to teach to keep her own signing skills fresh.

If you dont use it, you lose it, she said.

The weekly class is open to any teen or adult in the community interested in learning the basics of sign language, for business or pleasure.

Using familiar songs, stories and games as teaching tools, Herd tries to tailor the sessions to the needs of her students, incorporating signs they will likely be able to use.

We dont just learn a bunch of vocabulary words, she said. Thats too hard to remember.

In addition, Herd has continued to use her sign language skills in church, occasionally supplementing an element of worship, such as a song, with sign language.

She has also taught Bible school students and worked with childrens groups.

I really love teaching children because children really love to learn it, she said.

While demonstrating her interpretations of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and It Is Well With My Soul in her meditation garden, Herd stressed the importance of using the sign for my mouth is closed.

If you move at all, in sign language, you can say things you dont mean to say, she said, laughing. Its best to just keep your hands still and only talk when you mean to.

2004 Georgetown Newspapers, Inc., Georgetown, Kentucky. All Rights Reserved.