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Learn More About Sign Language and Deaf Culture

Ilene Avallone's picture
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ASL Conversational Practice: Photo by Mark Benjamin

With RIT consistently ranking in the top 15 largest private universities in the United States, our faculty and staff have endless opportunities to interact with students from all across the United States and other countries. Adding a social and educational dynamic not found at any other university are more than 1,200 deaf and hard-of-hearing students supported by NTID, the world’s first and largest technological college for deaf and hard-of-hearing students which has been part of RIT since 1968.

To support the inclusion of individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing at RIT, there are many resources, materials and learning opportunities available for the RIT community to gain knowledge about Deaf culture and American Sign Language.

One online resource is the ASL Video Dictionary and Inflection Guide, developed at NTID. The innovative dictionary shows 2,700 ASL signs in crisp color video, and show most of them in at least one of 650 sentence videos that demonstrate how signs change (inflect) to convey shades of meaning.

The guide has many interactive features to help users learn ASL. RIT community members can access it here by logging on with their RIT DCE account.

Features of the Dictionary

  • 2,700 ASL signs and English equivalents
  • 2,000 signs linked to at least one of 650 sentences that illustrate how the signs change to show different meanings
  • English translations of sentences
  • Similar Signs—signs that look alike—are grouped for easy comparison
  • All signs and sentences performed by Deaf native signers in high quality video
  • 1,000 signs grouped into 26 categories

The Faculty and Staff Sign Language program (FSSLP) at RIT is another resource that offers a variety of formal and informal ASL and Deaf culture learning opportunities for development of basic through advanced level ASL skills.

The FSSLP is part of NTID's commitment to three fundamental principles: basic courtesy in communication with others, equal access for all regarding the open flow of information within the RIT community, and sensitivity and respect for all cultural and individual differences and the variety of communication approaches.

Courses for staff and faculty are offered during fall and spring semesters as well as the summer session. ASL Group Instruction (AGI) also can be requested and provides customized ASL training to meet the specific needs of departments or groups. A complete list of courses offered and registration information can be found here.

ASL Conversational Practice sessions for faculty and staff also are held 12:00 p.m.- 1:30 p.m. every Thursday at the RIT ASL and Deaf Studies Community Center (RADSCC) in the Wallace Center during the academic year. Bring your lunch and take the opportunity to practice your ASL skills with others and learn new skills from Jeanne Behm, RADSCC coordinator. Behm says participants are welcome to come anytime during the lunch sessions for as long as they need to practice and as often as they’d like to come. Practice sessions also are offered 12:00 pm-1:00 pm. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in The Commons. Two students who are highly skilled signers lead these sessions.

The Wallace Center is another resource that provides extensive internet resources related to the Deaf community and culture. Joan Naturale is the NTID reference librarian at the Wallace Center, and has created numerous guides and collected websites to facilitate access to multiple collections related to deafness.

Visit the Deaf Studies Databases and Guides (click on Deaf Studies, Deaf Studies Archives and Sign Language Studies) to see what is available, or contact Joan for additional questions.