American Sign Language’s latest project aims to make our community more inclusive


Natalie Mix

the ASL 4 class on a field trip to Fredrick Meijer Gardens a few months ago

American Sign Language teacher Kimberly Anderson wants her students to learn that the world isn’t as nice as it should be. 

“I think deaf people are oppressed,” Anderson said, “and it’s hard for students to understand that everything’s not fluffy. I want them to reflect and know that it’s not hard to include everybody, sometimes it just takes the smallest steps.”

In honor of taking small steps, Anderson’s level 4 ASL students are spending the next couple of months on a project designed to not only help her seniors reflect on how much they’ve learned but make a positive impact on the Deaf community.

“I really want them to reflect on how much they know by teaching someone else about it because they say you learn best when you teach others,” Anderson said. “A lot of them came in not really thinking ASL was a huge deal, but now, they feel so passionate about it, but a lot of people just don’t understand yet. So, let’s try to find people that don’t understand and help them to understand. I instructed them to pick a business out of our community that they think could benefit from sign language awareness or knowledge.”

Some students in her class, like senior Kayleigh Ford, are reaching out to local businesses to see if they’d be interested in partnering with them in an effort to help make the community more accessible for the Deaf community.

“I personally am still debating between a couple [different businesses],” Kayleigh said. “I’m thinking about trying to push for Celebration Cinema to do a certain timeframe where they let Deaf people in and they’ll have interpreters.”

While still in the beginning stages of this project, the students in level four are just starting to come up with ideas and are reaching out to different options. Kayleigh just started sending out emails to different businesses she might want to work with.

“It’s a process [to pick a business] because not every place [wants] to involve other cultures and communities,” Kayleigh said. “You first have to send out the email and get it to corporate because you can’t go through a manager of a place. And then, it kind of just goes from there.”

I really want them to reflect on how much they know by teaching someone else about it because they say you learn best when you teach others,

— Kimberly Anderson

Like Kayleigh, senior Holly McLenithan and her partner senior Kelsey Dantuma are reaching out to local EMTs and hospitals to help teach them basic Sign Language so they can be more prepared during crisis situations.

“First responders, right now, don’t have any required ASL training,” Holly said. “If an EMT gets to a situation and the person who’s injured or suffering is deaf, they have no way right now, other than Google and a little book that has a few signs in it, to communicate with the person who’s deaf. So we think that it would be a really good idea to either give them some type of training [or] some type of resource in the ambulance with them to help them translate.”

Holly and Kelsey picked this project because they wanted to make a difference in the medical field for the Deaf community. Through their ideas, they aspire to make this world more inclusive one step at a time.

They plan on doing this by starting at the local level with their ideas.

“I think that it’s a really cool idea because Kelsey and I’s, in particular, is a bigger project, and it’s a bigger scale,” Holly said, “but there are some people doing stuff with local libraries and little local businesses that are definitely going to make a difference in our society in Grand Rapids.”

Most of us don’t have to worry about whether or not we’d be able to communicate with first responders in a crisis situation, but this is, unfortunately, something that the Deaf community has to think about. Both Holly and Kelsey thought it was important to teach first responders basic signs so they can actively communicate during emergencies.

“This is important to me because imagine if you were the Deaf person in this situation, and you couldn’t tell your first responder that, ‘Oh, my leg is bleeding out, but it’s covered by this pole,’” Holly said. “’And I can’t tell you that because you can’t speak my language.’ Imagine if it was you in that situation; it would be really frustrating. So I think you just have to think about putting yourself into the other person’s shoes.”