UCF professor, student want to encourage more people to learn ASL

For the deaf community and those hard of hearing getting accurate information during a news conference is vital. They depend on American Sign Language interpreters but not every press conference has one.

“It’s unfortunate because a lot of times when discussions around public health emergencies like coronavirus people with disabilities are really left out of the narrative,” Abbie Brown, a University of Central Florida sophomore said. “Specifically with deaf people and hard of hearing people, it’s vital that they have interpreters for emergency information.”

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The 19-year-old Orlando native is one of 235 ASL students enrolled in Professor Bill Cooper’s ASL course. Only this Fall semester, the challenge is having to take the course virtually. Cooper, who had to move to online teaching due to the pandemic, was born deaf and for the first time in the 15 years he’s been at UCF, he’s had to count on an interpreter for his classes to be effective.

“It’s been a very big challenge moving online from my courses,” Cooper said through an interpreter, adding the recording option on zoom has been helpful as well. “If they miss something or they can’t understand a sign or can’t see it clearly, there is a way to review my sign.”

It’s a much different teaching method but one Brown said she is grateful to have.

“We are fortunate you know, several years ago we couldn’t even have done classes online,” Brown said. “We’re still able to learn what we need to and interact with students. It’s been a learning curve but you know, students and professors we’re working together to make the best of it.”

They are making the best of it because they want to help fill the gap when it comes to more American Sign Language interpreters in central Florida. According to the Registry of Interpreters for the deaf, there are about 600 certified interpreters in the state, and the deaf population continues to grow.

“Here in Orlando we’ve got-we’re coming up on gosh, maybe 100,000 in the area,” Professor Cooper said. “I would like to see more for businesses to potentially have more interpreters there for deaf needs.”

Abbie, who plans to graduate with a major in exceptional student education said she hopes more people will sign up for the skill of ASL.

“Even if it’s just some basic signing that can be really crucial if you’re working customer service or you need to help a deaf person in everyday life,” she said.

There are currently 235 ASL students enrolled at UCF. Cooper is the only instructor and he’s teaching seven online classes to those students.

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