Sign language classes ‘a dream come true’

Story by Bailey BohannanStaff writer

Forty years ago, a family adopted a baby girl with hopes for the future, but when the girl was 3 years old, medical tests showed discouraging results confirming the child was deaf.

Nancy Strong, administrative assistant in the College of Education and Human Services, was a life-long friend of this family who adopted the little girl.

Strong said she took parent American Sign Language classes with the deaf 3-year-old’s parents to learn the language and said this event from 40 years ago motivated her to encourage Murray State to offer American Sign Language classes.

“MSU is the only university to offer these classes in western Kentucky,” Strong said. “The parent Signed English classes that I attended years ago are no longer offered in western Kentucky. Parents of a deaf child need local classes to learn their child’s language.”

Murray State offers first and second-level American Sign Language classes, and beginning in the Fall 2016 semester, a third-level class will be offered, according to a press release from Murray State Public Relations. The program will expand to offer ASL 104 in the Fall 2016 semester if enough students show interest in expanding their education of American Sign Language. The classes will be taught by deaf educators via Skype or in-class lectures.

Strong said that although the courses do not teach students to be an interpreter, they provide enough education for students to communicate with the deaf to tell them an interpreter has been contacted. She said all students can take the American Sign Language classes as an elective, but many students majoring in communication disorders, special education or nursing have taken the classes.

Madison Stallings, freshman from Owensboro, Kentucky, said she would be willing and interested in taking an American Sign Language class even though it is not required for her major.

“I’m an elementary education major so it would be awesome if I could incorporate sign language in my future classroom,” she said. “Sign language is something I would love to learn.”

Strong is a leader in this movement to expand the American Sign Language program at Murray State, along with other professors, including Max Williamson, according to a press release from Murray State Public Relations.

Strong said she encourages any student to take the first-level American Sign Language class to see if American Sign Language is for them, but she encourages students not to wait because the classes fill up quick and there is normally a waiting list for these classes.

Strong said a dream of hers is to bring deaf awareness to western Kentucky. Another dream of hers is to have students in American Sign Language classes go further and get their education to become an interpreter and then come back to the area to help other students.

“There are very few certified interpreters in the area, which makes it difficult for the deaf in the area, including deaf students who are enrolled at MSU,” Strong said.

The program is just beginning to pick up speed, but Strong said Murray State’s contribution to American Sign Language education is a dream come true.

“Communicating with the deaf and assisting families and the community to communicate with the deaf is my passion,” Strong said. “It has been my dream to offer ASL classes in western Kentucky … ASL classes at MSU are a dream come true.”