Sign language classes help bridge differences

Dwana Roby wears many hats in her professional life.

The Lansing, Illinois, resident is founder of Emerald City Services Inc. — a non-profit providing resources to the homeless community — and owner of Cafe DeLite Inc. (custom catering and event planning) as well as a certified American Sign Language (ASL) instructor.

She has served in the latter at the Hammond Public Library for the past three years.

“I believe sign language should be taken as seriously as any other language,” she said, as she readied for a recent wrap-up ASL event in the library’s Community Room. “I also have a good friend who is deaf, who has drawn me into her world/culture and it has given me a respect for the language.”

Roby’s interest in teaching ASL began when she was exposed to the deaf community and saw the lack of effective communication with the hearing community.

Her opinion tied in with the intentions of the Hammond Public Library, in regard to keeping in step with what a diversified community needs.

“We have a Strategic Plan, which outlays our goals and aspirations for community development centered around six objectives and activities,” said Rene Greenleaf, the library’s executive director. “This program (ASL sessions) meets the criteria outlined in those objectives. It strengthens the community connection by offering a program that not only educates the public, but also empowers staff to provide exceptional service to our patrons.”

Ruby Hampton of Hammond was one of the students in the recent American Sign Language class at the Hammond Public Library.

Ruby Hampton of Hammond was one of the students in the recent American Sign Language class at the Hammond Public Library. (Sue Ellen Ross / Post-Tribune)

A recent event in the library’s Community Room paired current ASL students with members of the deaf/hard-of-hearing community.

Among those students at the Coffee Social were Maria and Roy Flores of Hammond.

“I saw the ASL classes offered in the library’s monthly newsletter and felt it would be an interesting experience,” Maria Flores said. “I thought it would be good for both myself and my husband.”

Indeed, Roy Flores agreed, feeling there would be an immediate benefit for him.

“I have a co-worker that is deaf and always wanted to communicate with her,” he said. “This class is giving me the confidence to do that.”

Fellow student Angela Luna also wanted to learn ASL to assist in her work life.

The Hammond resident works as a librarian assistant and deals with a diverse patron atmosphere.

“I work at the front desk and want to be able to help everyone,” she said. “That includes those that are deaf or hard-of-hearing.”

The class instructor feels many goals are met through those both giving and receiving sign language.

“My most enjoyable moments in interpreting is when the deaf and hearing receive the understanding at the same time,” Roby added. “That’s very rewarding.”

Greenleaf also feels the ASL program has proven very successful.

“I think providing both the public and our staff with an opportunity to learn and grow in the knowledge of another culture and another language is beneficial in understanding and accepting differences,” she said. “We are always looking for ways to market and provide insight to the community regarding new cultures and ideas.”

In addition to American Sign Language classes, Spanish classes also are available at the library, she added.

“Both are designed to assist in educating patrons and staff alike, to not only acquaint themselves with the language, but to introduce them to the culture of these languages, which are prominently used in communities across our nation.”

The Hammond Public Library offers these classes bi-monthly.

Those interested can call the library at (219) 931-5100 to register.

Sue Ellen Ross is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.

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