Life

Teaching Douglas County to sign

The growth of American Sign Language is allowing more communication with deaf residents

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For many deaf men and women, communication barriers make living in a suburb difficult. Lack of public transit and non-communication jobs push those in the deaf community away from the suburbs and into more urban areas. But that is changing in Douglas County, thanks to the robust American Sign Language program in Douglas County high schools.

“ASL is the true language of the deaf,” said Nadelle Payne, who lost her hearing at age 2 after a case of spinal meningitis. (Interviews with Payne were conducted through an interpreter and email.)

“It was a blow to my family," she said. "But they took control of the situation by learning sign language and putting me in a good school with sign language support.”

American Sign Language was officially recognized as a language in 1960, but wasn’t accepted as a foreign language option nationally in schools until 2006.

When Castle View High School opened in 2006, so did the ASL program, with a part-time teacher. The next year, Payne took over as a full-time ASL teacher. By the program's fourth year, there were four ASL teachers.

ThunderRidge, Mountain Vista and Highlands Ranch high schools and eDCSD — the district’s online school — also have ASL programs with a mix of hearing and deaf teachers.

Course guides at Littleton, Arapahoe and Heritage high schools don't show that sign language is offered as a world language.

Payne, a Castle Rock resident for 15 years, has seen the impact of the school’s ASL program in the community.

“In Littleton, I feel isolated there because people don’t sign,” she said. “But here in Castle Rock, we have such a big program, that almost every restaurant and store has someone that took an ASL class at some point in their high school career.”

The ASL program has created a community of people more open minded to those who are different than themselves, Payne said. “It is so nice to go in restaurants and stores and there is always someone who can communicate with me."

For students in the program, it’s not only about learning a language, it’s also about communicating with people they know.

Castle View senior Michelle Owens was able to use what she learned in school to sign the maid-of-honor speech at her aunt’s wedding.

Cameron Laing, 17, is learning the language to improve communication with his aunt and uncle, who are deaf and live in Florida. He practices by Skyping with them.

"Sign language is absolutely beautiful," said Castle View student Ella Neal, 16. "It's expressive and beautiful and it's something close to my heart."For many deaf men and women, communication barriers make living in a suburb hard. Lack of public transit and non-communication jobs push those in the deaf community away from the suburbs and into more urban areas. But that is changing in Douglas County, thanks to the robust American Sign Language program in Douglas County high schools.

“ASL is the true language of the deaf,” said Nadelle Payne, who lost her hearing at age 2 after a case of spinal meningitis. (Interviews with Payne were conducted through an interpreter and email.)

“It was a blow to my family,” she said. “But they took control of the situation by learning sign language and putting me in a good school with sign language support.”

American Sign Language was officially recognized as a language in 1960, but wasn’t accepted as a foreign language option nationally in schools until 2006.

When Castle View High School opened in 2006, so did the ASL program, with a part-time teacher. The next year, Payne took over as a full-time ASL teacher. By the program’s fourth year, there were four ASL teachers.

ThunderRidge, Mountain Vista and Highlands Ranch high schools and eDCSD — the district’s online school — also have ASL programs with a mix of hearing and deaf teachers.

Course guides at Littleton, Arapahoe and Heritage high schools don’t show that sign language is offered as a world language.

Payne, a Castle Rock resident for 15 years, has seen the impact of the school’s ASL program in the community.

“In Littleton, I feel isolated there because people don’t sign,” she said. “But here in Castle Rock, we have such a big program, that almost every restaurant and store has someone that took an ASL class at some point in their high school career.”

The ASL program has created a community of people more open minded to those who are different than themselves, Payne said. “It is so nice to go in restaurants and stores and there is always someone who can communicate with me.”

For students in the program, it’s not only about learning a language, it’s also about communicating with people they know.

Castle View senior Michelle Owens was able to use what she learned in school to sign the maid-of-honor speech at her aunt’s wedding.

Cameron Laing, 17, is learning the language to improve communication with his aunt and uncle, who are deaf and live in Florida. He practices by Skyping with them.

“Sign language is absolutely beautiful,” said Castle View student Ella Neal, 16. “It’s expressive and beautiful and it’s something close to my heart.”

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