Adjunct Professor Brings ASL Lessons to CPM Students

If you catch the last few minutes of class with Joel Peerless, MD, you might be lucky enough to learn a bit of American Sign Language (ASL). Peerless, who serves CPM as Adjunct Faculty teaching Medicine to third year students, started adding ASL to the end of his lessons this year as an extracurricular, albeit beneficial activity for the future doctors. As for Peerless himself, ASL began as a retirement hobby just four years ago following over 30 years in the medical field. “My intention was to become a sign language interpreter as a retiree profession…however, once I got into the courses, I realized how difficult and lengthy a process it would be to become proficient in ASL”, he reflects of his time at Cuyahoga Community College in 2018, “I stopped taking the classes, but still tried to keep up with books and internet videos.”

Peerless brought his ASL experience to CPM to shake up class and introduce the practical skill to prepare students for an encounter with a deaf patient in the clinic or hospital. “A mission of caring for patients includes those with communication challenges, and knowing some basic signs certainly ties into that,” he says. Peerless began by introducing building blocks like no, deaf, help, me, you, followed by integrated medical terms such as sick, doctor, pain and medicine to craft short phrases. At the end of most classes, Peerless reviews previous lessons, and leaves the class with new signs to add into their ASL vocabulary. “The students have responded positively, and one student actually had a deaf patient in clinic, and was able to use what she had learned,” he notes.

Peerless says his favorite aspect of bringing ASL instruction to CPM is the students themselves. They present challenges, and bring joy to his work as he watches them learn and grow both in medicine and ASL as the year goes on. “I don’t know how many signs the students will retain,” he says of his lessons, “but knowing a few signs can instill extra trust in a deaf patient who has to negotiate the hearing world in what can be a stressful environment.” 

POSTED: Friday, July 8, 2022 - 8:52am
UPDATED: Friday, July 8, 2022 - 8:55am