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September 27, 2006

Signing spells joy for a hearing man

From: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle - Rochester,NY,USA - Sep 27, 2006

Chris Edgerton
Guest essayist

(September 27, 2006) — I grew up in Rochester, so it never seemed unusual to me to see people communicating in American Sign Language. Any time I went to the mall, the airport or a sporting event, it seemed there were always people signing in the background.

Later, while I was working at Rochester institutions, including Seabreeze amusement park, Silver Stadium and Highland Hospital, I saw signed communication and interpreters at work. A basketball teammate in high school had a deaf mother, and I had a cousin who attended the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

So I was exposed to deaf culture as I grew up. However, apart from learning the basics of finger-spelling, I never really had the inclination to learn American Sign Language until I accidentally sent a deaf man to the hospital during a pickup basketball game. It was a freak play — I had caught the ball near the basket and the deaf man had left his defender to play double-team. As I passed the ball back out to a teammate, my follow-through resulted in sinking my thumb into his eye up to the first knuckle. It was gruesome and terrifying. He collapsed in obvious pain, and I was dimly aware of the fact that I might have cut in half his ability to receive information by eyesight. Luckily he was all right; he had a few small broken bones around the eye socket and his vision impairment healed eventually. Since then, we've become friends and played together on the same court.

Around the same time, I became friends with a deaf woman my employer had hired. Both she and I read the newspaper and Newsweek magazine, and would discuss current events and politics via e-mail and instant messaging. Then when I watched the interpreter work at our staff meetings, and communicate with my friend, I became increasingly dissatisfied with the way I was "communicating," and, incidentally, with my job.

This led to my taking a few basic signing classes at Monroe Community College. As my interest grew, I became a full-time student in the NTID Interpreting Program. Following an extremely challenging and humbling two years there, I am now working for the Monroe County Board of Cooperative Educational Services (another Rochester institution!) and interpret for mainstreamed deaf and hard-of-hearing students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Since I've begun in this field, I have met an astounding number of remarkable people — classmates, teachers, students, co-workers, friends and mentors both deaf and hearing. I owe them all a debt that is impossible to repay. They have helped me realize what a unique opportunity Rochester offers to people interested in deaf culture and signed communication. I've become one of those fortunate individuals who truly enjoy his job working and being a part of the deaf community.

Edgerton of Rochester is an American Sign Language interpreter.

© 2006, The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle,