Faculty member Meghan Rainone is proudly bi-lingual. Her native language is ASL (American Sign Language) but she also reads and writes English. Rainone, an ASL instructor in Communication Sciences and Disorders, and her sister Rebecca were both born deaf to hearing parents who learned ASL. “ASL was my first language and is my preferred method of communicating. I think every deaf child should have the chance to be bilingual,” says Rainone.
In the 1970s, when Rainone was born, ASL was not as popular as it is today. The movement against sign language (and for oral education, a.k.a., lip reading) began in the 1880s and continued until 1960 when a book written by William Stoke was published. In Sign Language Structure, Stoke showed that sign language was a fully formed human language. “Some parents thought then, and now, that if you teach a child ASL it will become a crutch for them,” says Rainone.
“When parents learn their children are deaf they often go through the five stages of grief. By the time they realize what they need to do the child is already one years old and they have lost a critical period of time to learn ASL.” Today, sign language is the fourth most-used language in the United States.
The idea that deaf people had their own culture followed acceptance of ASL as a language. Rainone says that it is the culture of being deaf that makes her feel connected to others. “People feel we are removed, not realizing that we have a separate culture that isn’t as isolated as people think. Our shared experiences are a strong bond among us as a deaf group.”
On April 24th, Rainone, her sister and others, will lead a panel discussion on how the deaf experience differs from the hearing one and what it means to grow up deaf. (“Deaf people prefer to be called deaf rather than hearing impaired.”) In that discussion, Rainone and others will tackle the issue of cochlear implants, small electronic devices that provide a sense of sound to those that can’t hear.
“There are doctors that still try to fix us and perceive cochlear implants as the ‘cure’ for deafness. While we still have to overcome the outdated medical viewpoint, we are hopeful that we can continue to engage in a constructive dialogue in which both viewpoints can be converged in the best interest of deaf children.”
At Temple, Rainone hopes to expand the ASL offerings and introduce and encourage Temple students to appreciate the language. She is busy establishing an ASL certificate; creating a club on campus (“Talking Hands”); teaching ASL classes this summer; and has been instrumental in the design and innovation of online ASL courses and other specialty courses including American Deaf Culture, Medical ASL, and ASL Linguistics.
Says Rainone, “I require my ASL classes to go to a community event and observe. That way they see deaf people together, communicating as a group. That way, they can become an ally with the Deaf community.”
(For more information on upcoming ASL courses, contact Meghan.)