Unspoken, Unheard

But still expressed.

Sign language teacher and sponsor of the American Sign Language (ASL) club, Joseph Wheeler has been a sign language teacher for 15 years and is a member of the deaf community.  Via e-mail, Wheeler said he was a graphic designer until he decided that he wanted to work with people rather than computers.

“I feel that I have grown up a normal life. How do I know what I am missing if I never experienced hearing? I am very grateful that my parents learned sign language to communicate with me. Love came first before anyone’s expectations. I had a healthy upbringing because I was able to communicate with my family without obstacles or difficulty. When I am in the public, I use gestures or paper and pen with strangers,” Wheeler said.

ASL public representative and senior, Gabriela “Kitty” Khachatryan said taking sign language helps one open up to another community, and become more informed and aware of how other people live in the world. According to ASL president and senior, Rayah O’Rear, being a part of ASL and taking sign language has been a good experience. O’Rear said she has been taking sign language since she was in seventh grade, so when she got to high school and joined the club, becoming the president had always been part of the plan.

“If I were deaf there would be a lot of things that I would have to do differently. It wouldn’t restrict me from not doing anything so I don’t think it would be terrible. It’s not terrible for people who are deaf so I think I could make it. I would just have to write down things more often for people who don’t know sign language. I would also listen to things differently, I would feel the vibrations rather than actually knowing the words which I think would be pretty cool,” O’Rear said.

Khachatryan said sign language is one of the easiest languages to learn, which helps students get into it more quickly. As a result, it is often more entertaining because one can use it in context faster than any other language. Wheeler said learning sign language is important so one can communicate visually, because people who can hear depend too heavily on sound.

Students sign in at the main entrance to the Deaf Deaf World event in the Blue and Gold gym. When students signed in, they received gridded sheets of paper that would be stamped at each booth as they learned new sign language phrases.

Photo by Selena Qian

“I use American Sign Language with people, and write/read in English as well. I went to the deaf school and my peers and teachers used ASL. Being deaf is a gift and a blessing. It made me a visual learner, visual communicator, and gives me a sense of identity within the deaf community,” Wheeler said.

O’Rear said she found it fascinating that she could communicate with deaf people, and would find herself having interesting conversations with them. She said being able to interact with the deaf community and use sign language is what got her so involved with the club.

O’Rear said, “I fell in love with a language. It has helped spiral many good things in my life and I’m very grateful for being a part of this club and having a good leadership role in it. I actually got into the language in middle school because when my friends and I were in class, we wanted to find a way to interact with one another without getting in trouble, so we would always meet up during study hall or lunch and learn some of the basic words each day. Unfortunately that friend has not continued with sign language but it’s created many big things in my life and helped me understand the language and deaf people more and I’m very glad I got into it. ”

Khachatryan said that she believes more people should learn sign language, because it helps one understand people more, and allows them to help others as well. She said sign language is extremely useful in life, and she would not want to limit her knowledge of what other people have to say just because they are unable to express themselves.

“I think being able to involve and initiate the deaf community should be a bigger thing, and for sign language to be more known, because who knows you may not always have a paper and pencil each time so then you’re missing out on the opportunity of hearing someone’s feedback on something. I hate how being deaf creates limitations on people so sign language goes a long way,” Khachatryan said.

Wheeler said, “If I were to give advice to a deaf student I would tell them that they can do anything except hear. To embrace who they are, and communicate naturally using ASL.”

Senior Kitty Khachatryan (right) communicates through ASL with Alexandra Daddone (left). Khachatryan is an ASL II student, and she said learning the language has helped her to better understand others.

Photo by Grace Zhang

Senior Georgia Duke teaches a visitor to sign the letter “S.” Joseph Wheeler, ASL teacher and club sponser, is a member of the deaf community and said via e-mail he feels he has had a normal life by using ASL to communicate.

Photo by Selena Qian

(left) Senior Peighton Perkins visits the El Rodeo booth at Deaf Deaf World. At each booth, visiting students could choose a sentence related to the booth’s theme and learn how to say the sentence in ASL.

(right) Senior Ally Fleckenstein signs the letter “E.” Fleckenstein had a booth based on her workplace, Woody’s Library Restaurant.

Photos by Selena Qian

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Sameen Siddiqui

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Grace Zhang

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Selena Liu

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Selena Qian