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November 14, 2004

AACC reaches out to the deaf

From: Annapolis Capital - Annapolis,MD,USA - Nov 14, 2004

By WENDI WINTERS For The Capital

Unlike regular performances in the 85-seat academic amphitheatre in Anne Arundel Community College's Careers building, the room recently blazed with light and the voice of the main performer, 75-year-old Bernard Bragg was rarely heard.

It didn't matter.

The audience hung on every syllable of his dramatic, bittersweet narrative of how he won acceptance in a summer job in a Berkshire's Hotel in 1948 through courage, perseverance, stubbornness and a little sweat equity.

When the Brooklyn-born actor finished, the audience divided between those noisily clapping their hands and those who waggled them in the air - an American Sign Language symbol for applause. Mr. Bragg, like many in the nearly full room, is deaf.

In an enthusiastic speech, he was introduced to the warm crowd by Maureen O'Grady Hynes. Mrs. Hynes is a second-year instructor at the college. During the previous academic term, she was an adjunct professor. This year she was hired as the school's first full-time deaf professor.

She is responsible for teaching several ASL courses, offered through the college's psychology department.

Don Orso, chairman of the psychology department, noted the school's 20 different ASL section classes fill quickly. "That's exciting, and it's due to the work of Maureen," he said.

The potential for the ASL program is even more exciting.

The school has also revived the Signing Club. The 26-member club is headed by student Jacquie Day, and it boasts an ASL choir.

"I have a lot of new ideas and goals," Mrs. Hynes said. "For example, occupational therapists are always taking my classes for hand therapy exercises. They find them useful because increasing numbers of their patients are people who've become deaf through strokes, illness or accidents."

Occasionally interpreting for the professor was her 12-year-old hearing daughter, Elizabeth, an outgoing middle-schooler.

Mrs. Hynes' husband, Jim, a coordinator in a residence education program and employee at the School of the Deaf at Gallaudet University, is deaf, too. The couple also has a hearing son, Jeb, an 11-year old. The family lives in Bowie.

Mrs. Hynes earned a bachelor's degree at Gallaudet, and a masters in deaf education at McDaniel College in western Maryland. Afterward, she was mentored by Ursula Bellugi at the San Diego-based Salk Institute for Biological Studies ("What Einstein is to physics, Bellugi is to sign language," quipped Mr. Orso).

Tuesday evening's main interpreter and performance voice for both Mr. Bragg and Mrs. Hynes was Shellie Shipley, a raven-haired actress and ASL instructor.

Seated discreetly out of the audience's line of sight, she voiced the duos non-stop ASL signings in an easy, conversational tone.

Mr. Bragg, a California State University at Northridge instructor, was a treat for both the hearing and deaf audience members alike.

As a young man, he was trained in mime by the great mime artist Marcel Marceau, and later worked to popularize mime in America. An actor, author, playwright and director, he starred in the PBS "Quiet Man" TV series and in several mainstream TV productions and movies. He was also one of the founders of the National Deaf Theatre, and was its leading actor, administrator and sign master for many years.

His magnetic stage presence and theatrical, three-dimensional form of signing almost rendered his interpreters presence superfluous.

"ASL wasn't considered a true language when (Mr. Bragg) was a young man," Mrs. Hynes said in her introduction. "He was a deaf child, an only child, in a family with two deaf parents."

Like most actors, he was not above dropping names. As Marcel Marceau taught him, he taught Oscar Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin when she was a teenager.

In a humorous sketch he related how thrilled he was when Ms. Matlin gave birth to her first child. He lavished the child with a big cash gift, and set up a bank account in the child's name. Ms. Matlin had three more children in quick succession, nearly bankrupting his bank account and his sunny disposition.

His appearance at AACC is the first of what Mrs. Hynes hopes will be many events that mingle the hearing and deaf members of this community.

"The ASL classes I teach are offered as diversity courses,"' she explained. "Students are more and more motivated and want to become interpreters. Besides a diversity course can apply to so many avenues. So many AACC students are fascinated by the deaf lifestyle. They wish more colleges would offer ASL courses. AACC has so much more to offer and so many different ways to approach the world."


The next meeting of the Signing Club is a potluck dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. Dec. 10 in the college's Cade Building, Room 219. The ASL choir meets Mondays and Tuesdays at 6 p.m. in the upstairs section of the school's library. For more information, contact Jacquie Day at

- No Jumps-

Published November 14, 2004, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.
Copyright 2004 The Capital, Annapolis, Md.