American Sign Language ( ASL ) classes started as a pilot program from Deaf Communication by Innovation ( DCI ) , but quickly became so popular that DCI expanded its offering to include oneon- one instruction, tutor and video remote instruction/ tutor, and more.
"All of our registrants are either taking the [ ASL ] class for pleasure or with a goal to be more involved in the deaf community," said DCI's Matt Dans. "So far, the students' ages range from 18 to 70; the average age is mid-30s, and we have a few more female than male students. Most are college students or have jobs related to social service. We are very pleased that most of the students from our beginning classes return for intermediate training."
Dans said the popularity of ASL has grown steadily since the 1970s, when several scientific studies found that ASL's value is not limited to the deaf community. "With increasing interest in ASL, there are simply not enough resources available to teach it on a widespread basis," he said. "We at DCI see this as another opportunity to expand ASL use and deaf awareness in the Chicago area, and even throughout the state. "To seize the whole opportunity is to provide services that would fulfill the demands and as of what we've learned, providing ASL instruction classes, tutoring and video instruction/tutoring. Currently, we have two ASL instructors teaching classes and tutoring individuals, Matt Lieberman and myself."
Dans and Lieberman are both deaf and gay. Each ASL class from DCI is a six-week course, with once-a-week sessions that are two hours each. DCI offers beginner, intermediate and advanced ASL courses.
"After taking the first six-week class, [ students ] will be able to have basic conversations with deaf people," Dans said. "With the basic ability, one can meet a deaf person in a public place and anything could happen from there … new friend, or [ even ] a new lover. One with a basic knowledge in ASL could become immersed in the deaf world and pick up ASL and deaf culture on his/her own. However, we do strongly encourage people to take all three levels before going out on their own. Like any language, the more you know, the better chance for you to be able to communicate more effectively."
Raymond Rogers, the CEO and president of DCI, said the local LGBT deaf communityDCI, in particularhas been "pretty quiet" of late in comparison to a year ago, when DCI was preparing to host the Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf's ( annual conference.
"Apparently, many are taking a long break, trying to recover after all the hard work planning the conference," Rogers said. "Now, they are focused again on daily matters. However, there are still some LGBT deaf social events."
Rogers said business at DCI for the first four years of its five years was "very good." In fact, the company doubled in size annually. But, in 2009, "we grew at a slower pace, mainly because of the economy," Rogers said. " [ The year ] 2009 was a turning point for DCI during which we closely examined our service products to determine where to redistribute our resources to best serve the deaf community while maintaining a healthy company."
DCI now has five full-time and three part-time employees. Five of the eight are openly gay. In addition, DCI has more than 400 freelance sign language interpreters on contract, and many of them are also LGBT, he said.
"We've recently added video remote interpreting ( VRI ) to our current interpreting services," Rogers said. "VRI is another interpreting service for the public to use, mostly for those who deal with deaf individuals. VRI uses current technology, computer and webcam, to interpret for deaf and hearing people located in the same room. Using the Internet, a customer can simply contact our VRI call center to request an interpreter who instantly appears on the computer screen. This kind of accessibility works well for walk-in services, such as HIV/STD clinics, hospital emergencies and impromptu meetings between deaf and hearing people, etc. " So what's ahead for the LGBT deaf community in 2010?
"There is much more work to be done to create accessibility for deaf LGBT people," Rogers said. "Some organizations, such as the Human Rights Campaign, Illinois Equality, Test Positive Aware Network and the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, to name a few, have gone the extra mile to make their events accessible. Unfortunately, the live stages at Chicago PrideFest and Market Days, for instance, are still not interpreted and therefore not accessible to deaf LGBT attendees. Also, most live LGBT shows are not interpreted for the Deaf LGBT audience and most LGBT films are not captioned.
"Clearly, there is a lot more to do before the Chicago LGBT community is accessible to its deaf members. Many other citiessuch as San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Milwaukeeare way ahead of Chicago in terms of accessibility as almost all of their LGBT events are interpreted. Hopefully, this will change in Chicago as the hearing members of Chicago's LGBT community become more aware of their deaf brothers and sisters."
The next Rainbow Alliance for the Deaf's biennial conference will be in 2011 in Denver, and the World Federation of the Deaf's International Deaf LGBT Conference will be in South Africa. Don't expect the RAD to return to Chicago right away.
"Considering the amount of work involved, I doubt Windy City Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf would be prepared to host another major conference for a while," Rogers said. "We have plenty to keep us busy just planning events for Chicago's deaf and LGBT community."
Rogers said the worldwide economic crisis has definitely impacted the LGBT deaf community, perhaps more than most others.
"Many organizations/companies are struggling to survive and do not have funding to provide accessibility to deaf people for events, shows, etc. Because of the double minority, things are even worse for the deaf LGBT community," Rogers said. "Many organizations simply won't be able to provide the same level of financial support to which we have become accustomed."
Anyone interested in ASL classes should call DCI at 773-859-7709 or visit www.deafcomm.net .