Kent State Proves Importance of Teaching ASL During Emergencies

During Governor Mike DeWine’s daily press conferences on coronavirus updates to the state of Ohio, he’s usually shown with the Director of Health for the Ohio Department of Health Amy Acton, MD, MPH, and Marla Berkowits, a senior lecturer at Ohio State University in the American Sign Language (ASL) program. According to an interview Berkowits did with WKYC, she is the only Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) in Ohio.

Always dressed in neutral colors, Berkowits has been praised for her facial expressions. Since she herself is Deaf, someone signs throughout the press conference to her, and she relays that information with simple and proper ASL. Her facial expressions convey emotion and context for Gov. DeWine’s words.

ASL has become a very prominent topic throughout the world during this trying time, and Kent State is doing its part in upholding the responsibilities to the Deaf community.

Rachel Walter, an academic advisor at Kent State, said the interpreter at the press conferences shows Ohio’s inclusivity.

“For people who are deaf or hard of hearing, it’s nice to be able to turn on their TV and see someone that uses the language that they use as their first mode of communication,” Walter said.

Kent State currently offers an ASL major and minor that provides students with first-hand experience and proficiency in the language. Those who study within the 3 different majors related to ASL at Kent State typically go into career paths such as ASL interpreting, ASL translation, Deaf education, teaching ASL as a foreign language or advocacy work.

“The most demand I would say for the ASL major is combining it with the education minor, so that we’re preparing teachers to teach ASL in the public school system,” Randall Hogue, associate professor of ASL at Kent State said.

The number of different environments available for those who go into ASL interpreting are limitless, according to Walter.

“If you want to interpret for someone who is deaf or hard of hearing in literally any setting whether it be an educational setting, a hospital setting, a religious setting or a theatrical setting-- anything where there is someone who needs an interpreter-- that’s where our interpreting students go,” Walter said.

Jenn Armstead, ‘16, graduated with a bachelor’s in ASL and minor in education. She originally chose to study ASL after shadowing a Deaf education classroom.

“It was just so different and exciting,” Armstead said. “I changed my major to teach sign language as a foreign language because it’s practical and useful; there are Deaf people everywhere.”

Armstead now works in the Ohio public school system as a full-time ASL teacher and is hoping to eventually receive her master’s. According to her, being a student at Kent State studying ASL was like being part of a family.

“I liked my professors,” Armstead said. “All of my professors, other than Dr. Hogue, are Deaf so getting an education from them and being in the program, you feel like you’re a family. You go through these classes with the same people, semester after semester and everybody wants to succeed.”

Thankfully, Kent State is planning for more new opportunities for those interested in ASL.

“We’re working to get a Living Learning Community up for ASL,” Walter said. “This is really neat because it would be for on-campus living in one of the dorms for anyone who’s either involved in the Deaf community or culture, they themselves are deaf or hard of hearing, they’re in a major related to ASL or they’re someone who may be interested in learning more about ASL in an immersive environment.”

At this point Kent State is making a difference by educating students who then go on to shape society and provide a positive future for ASL.

“To my knowledge, Kent State is the only university that trains sign language teachers in Ohio,” Hogue said. “Any occupation that you can think of, sign language can be useful for. There are Deaf communities everywhere.”

Learn more about Kent State’s ASL programs


POSTED: Wednesday, May 6, 2020 - 12:21pm
UPDATED: Thursday, May 7, 2020 - 11:12am
Linden Miller